More than 30 people die across Europe in freezing conditions

Fri, Dec 3, 2010, 00:00

FREEZING TEMPERATURES and heavy snow have claimed the lives of more than 30 people across central and eastern Europe, as even countries accustomed to harsh winters have been caught out by the cold spell.

Eighteen people died in Poland as the mercury plunged to minus 33 degrees in parts of the country, most of them homeless men or people who had been drinking heavily.

Some 3,000 Polish prisoners have been put on standby to help with the snow-clearing effort after road, rail and air transport were badly disrupted.

About 20,000 Poles were also left without heat and light after a power station broke down outside Warsaw, stoking public anger about the authorities’ lack of preparedness for the onset of winter.

There are also fears that this weekend’s second round of local elections could be badly disrupted.

Four people have died in the Czech Republic. Prague airport was temporarily closed yesterday after about 30cm of snow fell in a few hours, causing chaos on major motorways linking the country with Germany, where at least two people died in weather-related car accidents.

Thousands of Germans also had to spend Wednesday night on trains, because they were stuck in the snow or could not find anywhere to stay in towns where they were unexpectedly stranded by the rail mayhem.

In Berlin, homeless people were encouraged to shelter from the bitterly cold night in subway stations, soup kitchens and buses laid on for the purpose.

Further north, Denmark dispatched armoured personnel carriers to help ambulances and other emergency vehicles forge a path through snow-covered regions, while in Lithuania four people died of exposure.

Serbia, Bosnia and Montenegro declared a state of emergency after torrential rain caused some of the worst flooding in a century, and more than 1,000 people were evacuated as the region’s major rivers rose to dangerous levels and severed power supplies.

Much of nearby Romania and Bulgaria were experiencing unseasonably warm weather, however, with the Bulgarian capital Sofia basking in its hottest December day on record, as thermometers touched 21.3 degrees.