By JR on Friday, February 03, 2012
A cold snap is keeping Europe in its icy grip, pushing the death toll to 163 as countries from Ukraine to Italy struggle with temperatures that plunged to record lows in some places.
Entire villages were cut off, trapping thousands; road, air and rail links were severed in several places and gas consumption shot up as people grappled with the severest winter in decades in several places.
Nine more people died in Poland overnight as temperatures hit minus 32 degrees in the south-west, taking the country's toll to 29 since the deep freeze began last week, police said.
In Ukraine, tens of thousands have headed to shelters trying to escape the freeze that the emergencies ministry said had killed 63 people.
Most of them literally froze to death on the street, with only a handful making it to hospital before succumbing to hypothermia, the ministry said.
Thousands of homeless people in the region are at risk, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies warned.
"Although we expect harsh winters in this part of the world this current freeze has come towards the end of a mild winter," said Zlatko Kovac, IFRC representative for Belarus and Ukraine.
"Homeless people have been caught unawares and unprepared. They don't follow long-range forecasts and are extremely vulnerable."
Red Cross Societies have helped with hot meals, warm clothing and blankets. The organisation said it had released €108,000 ($133,360) from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to boost the effort.
Shivering and hungry, tens of thousands of Ukrainians have sought help in the more than 2000 temporary shelters set up by the authorities to help the poor survive the fearsome spell of cold weather.
Temperatures fell to minus 33 degrees in the Carpathians and minus 27 in the capital Kiev.
"I am unemployed. I have somewhere to live but nothing to eat. I ate here and it was good - bread with a slice of fat and an onion as well as porridge," said Olexander Shemnikov after visiting a shelter in Kiev.
In Romania, eight people died overnight bringing the overall toll to 22, the health ministry said. Schools remained closed in some parts of the country as temperatures reached minus 31 degrees.
In Bulgaria, where the mercury dipped to lows not seen in a century, at least 10 people have died, according to media. Authorities have not released official figures.
With parts of the Danube freezing, authorities moved some vessels to ports further away to protect them from the advancing ice.
And in the capital Sofia, some residents found their money frozen as automated teller machines stopped functioning, according to local media.
In Latvia, 10 people have died around the capital Riga alone, with no figures available for the rest of the country.
In neighbouring Lithuania a 55-year-old homeless man found in the ruins of an abandoned house in Klaipeda became the ninth victim of the chill.
And in Estonia, organisers even had to postpone a trio of cross-country skiing events after temperatures plunged to minus 30.
In Italy, hundreds of people were trapped overnight on trains as freezing temperatures and heavy snowfalls in the centre and north caused widespread chaos on roads, railways and at airports.
The cold has so far killed an infant in Sicily and a 76-year-old in Parma during what forecasters say is the coldest weather in Italy in 27 years.
In France, 41 of the 101 regions were on alert for snow or "deep cold".
Authorities banned trucks on several major highways where the risk of snowfall and ice remained high. In Paris, the army set aside nearly 600 places in military buildings to shelter the homeless from the cold.
Two people died in Austria, seven perished in Serbia - where 11,500 others were trapped mostly in remote mountain villages inaccessible by road, five have died in the Czech Republic and two each in Slovakia and Greece.