Europe sends in ice-breakers to battle big chill
The freeze shows no signs of releasing Europe from the icy grip, with forecasters expecting the bitter cold to last another two weeks.
Tue, Feb 07, 2012 at 09:47 AM
COMING THROUGH: The bow of a ship laying at the port of Constance, southern Germany, is surrounded by sheets of ice covering the Bodensee (Lake Constance). (Photo: Tobias Kleinschmidt/AFP)
BELGRADE — Authorities used everything from ice-breaking explosives to tractors on Tuesday, Feb. 7 to overcome Europe's big freeze, as dozens more died of hypothermia and tens of thousands remained cut off by snow.
A total of 389 people are now known to have died from the cold weather in Europe since the cold snap began 11 days ago and forecasters are warning there will be no early let-up to some of the lowest temperatures seen in decades.
While there was some respite for people living in Ukraine — where more than 130 deaths have been recorded — the mercury plunged overnight to minus 39.4 degrees Celsius (-38.9 Fahrenheit) in the Kvilda region of the Czech Republic.
More bodies were found either on the streets, in their cars or in their homes in Germany, Italy, Poland and across the Balkans.
Authorities in Serbia said that 70,000 people were trapped in snow-bound villages in the south as they declared an "emergency situation." The order, which is one step down from a state of emergency, allows the government to order private companies to help in the snow clean-up with machines and people.
Predrag Maric, the head of Serbia's emergency services, told B92 radio that the most critical situation was now on the Danube and Ibar rivers were a thick ice layer is forming.
"Experts from the army will see if the ice cap (on the Ibar) can be broken with explosives in a way that is safe for people and the environment," he said, adding that the government is calling in icebreakers to clear the Danube.
Large parts of eastern and southern Bosnia have also been cut off by the snow and avalanches.
There has been no contact since Feb. 3 with the hamlet of Zijemlje, some 30 kilometers (19 miles) from the town of Mostar.
"We don't know what is going on there. They have not had electricity since Friday (Feb. 3) and phone lines are cut, they have no running water," Radovan Palavestra, the mayor of Mostar, told AFP.
"There are elderly people who are very fragile and children including a baby of two months, in total between 130 and 150 people," Palavestra added.
A helicopter which should have flown in aid to Zijemlje was unable to take off Tuesday morning because of heavy snowfall, the authorities said.
In Romania, two heavily pregnant women had to be flown out by helicopter in the eastern area of Iasi after their villages were completely cut off by the snow. Another pregnant woman had to be ferried to hospital by tractor in the eastern Paltinis area after her ambulance became stuck in the snow.
Schools were shut in large parts of the country, including Bucharest, while many train services were cancelled. Around 40 percent of roads were also closed, although flights did resume from Bucharest airport.
Snowstorms lashed Bulgaria, a day after eight people drowned in raging rivers and the icy waters from a broken dam that submerged a whole village to the southeast.
The numbers killed by hypothermia in Poland now stands at 68 after the authorities there recorded another six deaths in the last 24 hours.
The majority of those who have died were homeless, many of whom had been drinking heavily.
The cold snap has also seen a sharp rise in the number of people being killed by carbon monoxide poisoning from faulty gas heaters. Polish police said there had been 22 victims of poisoning in the last 24 hours, two of whom died.
According to the state weather forecaster in Ukraine, temperatures there were expected to range between minus six to minus 18 Celsius on Tuesday.
But the respite will be short-lived with temperatures expected to plunge to minus 30 Celsius by the weekend.
And it was a similar message from Britain where forecasters said the cold spell could last for two more weeks.
Experts said temperatures could fall as low as minus 10 Celsius degrees in some parts of England overnight Tuesday, promising more trouble on the roads and trains after heavy snow over the weekend.
And French authorities warned, that with around a third of the country still facing temperatures low enough to trigger weather warnings, electricity use could hit a record high later Tuesday.
Generator firm EDF appealed to households to save power where possible. In previous bad winters the western region of Brittany and the Cote d'Azur in the south have been hit with powercuts.
Photo: A hiker walks in front of a frozen waterfall in Oberhaslach, eastern France. (Frederick Florin/AFP)
Copyright 2012 AFP Global Edition