Cold weather kills more than 80 in Europe; snow falls over Italy

AFP – February 1, 2012

Europe froze as the continent experienced some of its coldest temperatures in decades on Wednesday, the death toll from the weather topped 80 and countries battled to clear snow from roads and railways.

At least 28 people froze to death overnight in eastern and central Europe, while countries further west and south began to feel the effects of a cold front spreading from Siberia.

Snow hit Italy, which struggled to clear motorways and railways after heavy falls, and the French Mediterranean island of Corsica.

In Ukraine, officials said 13 people had died of hypothermia over the past 24 hours, bringing the overall toll there to 43 over the past six days.

Most were homeless people who froze to death on the streets, but seven died in their homes and more than 800 sought medical help for frostbite and hypothermia as temperatures plunged to minus 30 degrees Celsius in some regions.

Poland reported five people found dead overnight, bringing the overall toll to 20 since temperatures plummeted there on Friday. The victims, most of whom had been homeless, were four men aged 29-to-61 and an 83-year-old woman.

Most of the victims had been homeless, or individuals who got drunk and fell asleep outdoors, police said, as officials reported temperatures diving to minus 30 Celsius in some parts of the country.

In Slovakia, two people died as temperatures hit minus 24C, the daily newspaper SME reported.

And in the neighbouring Czech Republic a 47-year-old homeless man was found frozen to death in the eastern city of Karvina, where the mercury has dropped to minus 29 Celsius.

In Romania, six people died over the past 24 hours, bringing the toll to 14 over the past six days, the health ministry announced.

These included a baby who died in an unheated house in the northeastern town of Iasi, a ministry spokesman said.

Some 346 people, homeless or suffering from hypothermia, have been taken to hospital or rescue centres over the past 24 hours as temperatures fell to minus 32.5C in the centre of the country, officials said.

In Bulgaria, two people died in the coldest weather in a century in some parts of the country, bringing the overall toll to 10, weather officials and media said on Wednesday.

The temperature sank to minus 29.4C in the northeastern city of Knezha and minus 31.4C in the northern town of Sevlievo.

Guntars Grauss, director of Latvia’s state medical centre, told the Delfi news portal that five men and two women had died in the final week of January when temperatures were at their lowest.

In a related incident a man died in the central town of Ogre Tuesday after a traditional open fire used to heat homes appeared to have got out of control.

In Italy snow caused traffic chaos in the northern cities of Bologna and Milan and trucks banned from the roads in the central regions of Marche, Tuscany and Umbria until further notice.

As bad weather halted all work around the beached cruise liner Costa Concordia, forecasters predicted more snow and colder temperatures in the days ahead, with a low of minus 20C in the Alps.

Temperatures also plunged in France to seven degrees below the seasonal average, according to the national weather service, and southern areas were hard hit by snow and ice.

In Corsica, most mountain passes were closed by heavy snow and power cuts hit some 60,000 homes in the island and neighbouring French mainland.

Authorities in Switzerland, Belgium and Germany scrambled to provide extra beds in the warmth for hundreds of homeless people.

But the Dutch were putting on their skates, staging the first marathon of the season on natural ice and hoping their canals would be sufficiently frozen to hold a classic 200-kilometres for the first time since 1997.