Cold snap claims more victims

Sun, Feb 5, 2012, 00:00

A bitterly cold weather front sweeping across Europe has claimed more victims and brought widespread disruption to transport services, with warnings that the chilling temperatures could remain into next week.

Hundreds have lost their lives in eastern Europe and major airports have warned that some flights will be delayed or cancelled.

Steven Keates, a weather forecaster at Britain's Met Office, said the severe wintry conditions were expected to last, and spread to other areas.

"It will still be very cold, maybe not quite the exceptional temperatures we've seen this last week, but still very cold," he told Reuters, saying the current front which brought snow and ice to Britain overnight was now heading to Belgium and Germany.

"(It will be) perhaps turning increasingly unsettled across southern and eastern Europe, so that will probably bring a risk of snow for Italy across to Greece and up round the Balkan countries."

Nine more deaths from cold were registered in Ukraine overnight, emergencies services said today, taking the death toll to 131 from a nine-day cold spell which has brought freezing temperatures to the ex-Soviet republic.

A statement from the emergencies ministry said 1,800 people were receiving hospital treatment for cold-related ailments.

The cold spell - the most severe for Ukraine in six years with night temperatures down as low as minus 33 degrees in parts - has tested the country's social network to its limits.

Many of the dead were homeless people with bodies being found in the streets under snow, in rivers and in doorways. Metro stations in the capital Kiev have become sanctuaries overnight for the homeless to find warmth.

More than 3,000 heated tents have been set up around the country to provide makeshift accommodation and dispense food and drinks to homeless people.

Eight more people had frozen to death over the past 24 hours in Poland, bringing the death toll there to 53 since the cold snap began, PAP news agency reported the national police headquarters as saying.

Polish prime minister Donald Tusk has now asked local authorities to waive the ban on admitting inebriated individuals to homeless shelters.

The extreme cold had also caused the death of at least three people in Hungary, ambulance spokesman Pal Gyorfi was quoted as saying by the national news agency MTI.

The demand for ambulances was up 20 per cent on a usual day with 3,000 calls, Gyorfi said in a statement.

Rail services in England were affected and many roads were left impassable, and sections of motorways near London were brought to a standstill, forcing some divers to abandon their vehicles. Police said the main roads into the southern port of Dover had also been closed for a while.

The first winter snow fell in Paris overnight coating the Eiffel Tower, and more showers due throughout Sunday. The French capital's main airports were also expecting problems and advised passengers to check with the airlines before travelling.

Meanwhile the death toll rose to four, after a 12-year old boy died of hypothermia yesterday after falling into a frozen pond in eastern France and a homeless person was found dead in the northeast.

Reuters