Harsh winter kills scores in eastern Europe

Temperatures drop to minus 30C and below, causing power outages, traffic chaos and widespread closures.

    The death toll from the week-long freezing weather across eastern Europe has risen to 123, while at least 11,000 villagers remain trapped under heavy snow and blizzards in the Serbian mountains.

    Many of the dead from the harshest European winter in decades are homeless.

    In some regions, temperatures have dropped to minus 30C and below, causing power outages, traffic chaos and the widespread closure of schools and airports.

    Those stranded in Serbia are stuck in 6,500 homes in remote areas cut off by icy, snowy roads as banks reached up to five meters.

    Emergency crews were pressing hard to try to clear the snow to deliver badly needed supplies. Helicopters were dispatched to some particularly remote areas in Serbia and neighbouring Bosnia.

    On Bosnia's Mt Romanija, near Sarajevo, a chopper thumped down in the small town of Ozerkovici, where a single nun lives in a Serbian Christian Orthodox monastery surrounded by just a few village residents.

    Wrapped tight in a black jacket and a scarf, Sister Justina greeted aid workers at her monastery: "I live alone here," she said, but noted "God will help me".

    In Serbia, relief efforts are concentrated on evacuating the sick, food delivery and gasoline distribution.

    "We are trying everything to unblock the roads since more snow and blizzards are expected in the coming days," Serbian emergency police official Predrag Maric told The Associated Press news agency.

    New deaths

    Newly reported deaths on Thursday due to the cold included 20 in Ukraine, nine in Poland, eight in Romania, and one more each in Serbia and the Czech Republic.

    In Western Europe, one person was reported dead in Germany and one in Italy.

    Polish government spokeswoman Malgorzata Wozniak said her country's victims were mostly homeless people under the influence of alcohol who had sought shelter in unheated buildings.

    Officials appealed to the public to quickly aid anyone they saw in need, as homeless shelters were full.

    In Warsaw, where the temperature on Wednesday night was minus 22C, the narrow corridors of the Monar homeless shelter were filled with drying washing, and the residents crammed into a small dining room with bowls of soup.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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