Winter freezes most of Europe

Worried officials monitored Italy's swelling rivers as severe winter weather sweeping across Europe brought more heavy rain and snow on Sunday, and authorities in Austria warned of a "substantial" risk of avalanches.

    Italy is particularly hit with major rivers flooding and heavy rains

    In central Italy, authorities were forced to close roads and evacuate dozens of families from homes near rivers. Local and state personnel in the coastal community of Fiumicino, just west of Rome, kept a close eye on the ever-rising Tiber and booked about 800 beds at area hotels, the ANSA news agency reported.

     

    "We're not in an emergency, but in a state of alert," Guido Bertolaso, head of the Civil Protection Department, told reporters.

     

    Authorities in Rome were clearing homeless people from the area near the river, which had risen to nearly 12 meters (39 feet) on Sunday from six meters (nearly 20 feet) the day before, according to figures provided by the Civil Protection Department.

     

    "We needed to vacate the Tiber's banks in central Rome due to the presence of clandestine immigrants who use the banks for lodging," said Angelo Malandrino, cabinet chief of Rome's prefecture.

     

    "If the river were to reach 12 meters, it would be a level we haven't seen in 20 years," said Paola Pagliara of the Civil Protection Department.

     

    Extent of damage

     

    "If the river were to reach 12 meters, it would be a level we haven't seen in 20 years"

    Paola Pagliara 
    An official at Italy's civil protection department

    Further north, the Tiber flooded in parts of the central Umbria region, ANSA reported, and the Italian Confederation of Farmers estimated tens of millions of euros (dollars) of damage to crops, farms and stables.

     

    "Especially in the centre (of Italy) all sorts of things are happening," said Alfredo Bernardini, a spokesman for the confederation. "Between snow and rain, yesterday and last night were devastating."

     

    The federation of farmers said the situation was especially worrisome in the central regions of Emilia Romagna, Tuscany, Marche, Umbria and Lazio, where Rome is.

     

    Strong winds and swirling waters had ripped out trees, flooded crops and destroyed greenhouses, ANSA said.

     

    By Sunday night, the level of emergency had stabilized across the country and the central regions were back to "normal conditions," Pagliara said Austria's national weather service, the Central Institute for Meteorology, raised the avalanche risk level for much of the country's Alps to three on a five-point scale.

     

    Officials said the risk was most acute in the southwestern province of Carinthia, where about 70cm (27.5 inches) of snow fell over the past 24 hours. Conditions were also ripe for avalanches in the southern province of Styria and the alpine province of Tyrol, they said.

     

    Skiers warned

     

    Authorities urged skiers and snowboarders not to stray off marked trails and to wear electronic transmitters designed to help rescuers quickly locate victims buried beneath snow and ice.

     

    Authorities in Belgium were struggling to respond to electricity blackouts and black ice on the roads that killed one person and injured two on Saturday.

     

    Two homeless men froze to death in central Brussels as the first winter snow took the country by surprise, media reported on Sunday. One 43-year old man was found dead on Friday evening in a church doorway next to two friends who were hospitalized for hypothermia.

     

    A second man died in a hospital after he was found suffering from hypothermia in a bus shelter.

     

    Meanwhile, a Turkish ship whose engine broke in rough waters near the small island of Procida in front of Naples, was towed to safety early on Sunday, Italian media reported. 

    SOURCE: Agencies


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