Deadly freeze extends icy grip on Europe

More than 200 killed across region as temperatures plunge to new lows, while vital gas supplies curtailed due to demand.

    More than 200 people have been killed across Europe and Bosnia has declared a state of emergency as temperatures plummeted to new lows amid forecasters' predictions that the week-long cold snap could intensify.

    The latest death toll of 223 - tallied according to figures compiled by the AFP news agency - included hundreds of homeless people who have frozen to death in what has become the harshest European winter in decades.

    In Ukraine, at least 38 people were found dead on Friday as temperatures in the port city of Odessa dropped to -15C.

    Ukraine's emergencies ministry raised its overall death toll since the cold weather took hold to 101, of whom 64 died on the streets.

    On Saturday afternoon, Bosnia's capital city, Sarajevo, declared a state of emergency after more than a metre (three feet) of snow fall.

    The state of emergency order said that all schools must stay closed, that women and children should stay home, and that men should only work if necessary.

    It also ordered men who own shovels or vehicles big enough to plow snow to help the city clear streets, especially those leading to hospitals.

    In Italy, Venice's canals began freezing over and a rare snowfall even blanketed the capital, Rome, forcing the closure of the Colosseum over fears that tourists could slip on the icy ruins.

    Temperatures have dropped to -30C and below in other parts of Europe, causing power outages, traffic chaos and the widespread closure of schools and airports.

    Gas supplies disrupted

    Amid the freeze, vital Russian gas deliveries were curtailed in nine countries as the cold weather increased the country's domestic demand.

    Marlene Holzner, a spokeswoman for European Union Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger, said Russia was going through an extremely cold spell and needed more gas to keep its citizens warm.

    Russia’s gas contracts "allow for certain flexibility in case they also need the gas. And that is the situation that Russia is facing at the moment," she said.

    The European Commission put its gas co-ordination committee on alert on Friday, but it said the situation had not yet reached an emergency level as nations pledged to help each other if needed.

    Thousands trapped

    In Serbia, thousands of people have been trapped under heavy snow and blizzards in the country's mountain villages.

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

    Relief efforts in the country are concentrated on evacuating the sick, food delivery and fuel 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 AP news agency.

    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 Mount Romanija, near Sarajevo, a helicopter landed 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 Poland, the temperatures killed eight more people over 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 37 since the deep freeze began a week ago, police there said.

    Another six people were found dead in Bulgaria from the cold, bringing the overall tally to 16 in the last week, according to local media.

    In neighbouring Romania, two more people died, bringing the overall toll to 24.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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