AFP – February 3, 2012
Temperatures fell to record lows across Europe as a week-long cold snap continues, claiming more than 220 lives with forecasters warned that the big freeze would tighten its grip at the weekend.
In the southwest Czech Republic, mercury fell to as low as minus 38.1 degrees Celsius overnight and even Rome received a rare dusting of snow.
In the last seven days, a total of 222 people have died from the cold weather, according to an AFP tally.
Ukraine’s emergencies ministry raised the death toll substantially from a previous 63 to 101, of whom 64 died on the streets.
Almost 1,600 people have requested medical attention for frostbite and hypothermia and thousands have flocked to temporary shelters that have been set up across the country for people to find warmth and food.
The ferocious temperatures killed eight more people over the last 24 hours in Poland, bringing the death toll to 37 since the deep freeze began a week ago, police said.
Temperatures plunged to minus 35 Celsius in some areas of Poland, while in Bulgaria parts of the River Danube have frozen over, severely hindering navigation.
Elsewhere in Bulgaria, another six people were found dead from the cold, bringing the overall tally to 16 in the last week, according to local media. No official figures have been released.
Most of the dead in the European Union’s poorest country were villagers found frozen to death on the side of the road or in their unheated homes, the reports said.
More than 1,000 Bulgarian schools remained closed for a third day Friday amid fresh snowfalls and piercing winds in the northeast of the country.
In neighbouring Romania two more people died, bringing the overall toll to 24, and hundreds of school remained closed. Forecasters warned of heavy snowfall for the weekend.
In Rome, residents experienced only their second day of snow in the last 15 years, with white flakes covering palm trees, ancient Roman ruins and Baroque churches across the capital.
Up to five centimetres of snow fell in some districts and ancient monuments like the Colosseum were closed to visitors for fear of damage to the structure.
Temperatures in the Alpine region of Piedmont in northern Italy went as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius and drivers were advised to avoid regions in the centre of the country due to heavy snowfall and resulting traffic problems.
However trains resumed normal service across the country except in and around Bologna and on a local line near Rome, the state railways said in a statement after days of delays that affected thousands of passengers.
Three people have died due to the extreme weather in recent days, including a homeless man found in the centre of Milan on Thursday.
Estonia and France announced their first casualties of the freeze, with a man found frozen to death on a street in Talinn and an 82-year-old man suffering from Alzheimer’s dying of hypothermia in the eastern French village of Lemberg after wandering out of his home in pyjamas.
Rescuers in Serbia ploughed through snowdrifts to get food, supplies and aid to residents of mountain villages, where thousands of people have been trapped by the inclement weather.
“To help a woman who needed to reach a hospital we were breaking through two-metre (six-foot) snow drifts, which lasted for two and a half hours,” said Vedran Taskovic, a rescuer in the southeastern town of Vranje.
“Eventually, we had to make a sleigh of nylon bags to get her to the road, as she couldn’t walk.”
Swaths of Britain were bracing for snow after temperatures plunged to minus 11 degrees Celsius overnight in Chesham, southeast England, with authorities warning that the cold could catch people off-guard after a warmer-than-normal winter so far.
The French, who have cranked up their heating systems were on Monday expected to break an all time power consumption record set in 2010, with consumers being asked in some regions to turn off appliances for at least four hours per day to avoid blackouts.
The cold snap has also killed people in the Baltic countries of Latvia and Lithuania, Austria and even Greece.