Cold snap, snows and blizzards kill 200 across central and eastern Europe
Some 200 people have died as a result of a fierce, cold snap gripping central and eastern Europe, amid fears that a dispute between Russia and Ukraine could again endanger energy supplies.
Persistent heavy snowfall and overnight temperatures of about minus 20 degrees have claimed at least 83 lives in Ukraine, and forced more than 500 people to seek hospital treatment for cold-related medical problems. Almost 100 villages, most of them in southern Ukraine, were left without power as demand for heating surged across the country.
In neighbouring Poland, about 50 people have died during a freezing December. Most were homeless, prompting the government to step up provision of shelter and free food. Another 41 Poles have died due to carbon monoxide poisoning from old and faulty heaters in their homes.
Russian officials said 56 people had died due to the intense cold this week, and 371 had been treated in hospital, as temperatures in Moscow dropped below minus 20 and those in major Siberian cities plunged past minus 40.
Daytime temperatures in the Baltic states yesterday struggled to climb above minus 10yesterday, and the Latvian capital Riga waived public transport fares to encourage people to leave their cars at home, in a bid to reduce traffic congestion and accidents on the icy roads.
Much of Romania and Bulgaria are still enduring extremely cold and snowy conditions, and this week dozens of villages in both countries suffered long power outages and were cut off when snow paralysed swathes of road and rail networks.
Bulgaria closed two border crossings with its neighbour, and some 10,000 people in northeast Romania were cut off by snow for several days, prompting emergency services to seek ways to deliver provisions such as oil, bread and rice.
The republics of former Yugoslavia are now recovering after being blasted last week by blizzards and freezing winds. The winds were blamed for the deaths of several people, closed airports around the region and forced Serb emergency teams to rescue more than 650 people stranded in their cars.
Serb media said that one woman gave birth in a truck on the road because she could not reach hospital. She reportedly called her baby girl Snezana – Serbian for “Snow White”.
The snowfall was a boon for Slovenia’s ski region, however, and mountain resorts across the Alps are reporting unusually good skiing conditions for December.
Economists warn that higher fuel bills this frigid winter could put pressure on households across central and eastern Europe that are already struggling financially, as most of the region’s governments impose tough austerity measures and slash social spending.
Experts are also keeping a close eye on whether last week’s last-minute cancellation of talks on an energy deal between Russia and Ukraine could lead to the kind of dispute that disrupted Russian gas supplies to the EU in 2006 and 2009.
Moscow and Kiev insist there is no such danger.