Cold snap in Europe takes its toll
The bitter winter costs 13 more lives while road and rail transport suffered massive disruptions.
Warsaw -- Europe's cold snap claimed 13 more lives as the region battled another day of icy weather and Eastern Europe felt the effects of Russian gas cuts.
Poland's Interior Ministry said Thursday that six more people had died in the country, taking its death toll from hypothermia to 82 since November, 23 of them in recent days.
Five people, including three homeless, also died in Ukraine's southern Kherson region where temperatures plummeted to minus 19 degrees Celsius (minus 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the Ministry of Emergency Situations.
German police said the cold snap had claimed another two victims since Monday, both found in the west of the country where temperatures plunged to minus 16 Celsius.
Heavy snow on the northern shores of the Mediterranean also left the French port of Marseille paralysed, with its airport remaining closed well into the day and 10,000 homes going without electricity overnight, officials said.
Road and rail transport suffered massive disruptions with schools, nurseries and universities closed as a result.
French weather services said between 20 and 40 centimetres of snow fell on the Bouches-du-Rhone region -- closing six major motorways around France's second city.
Along France's southern coast toward Spain, the airport at Toulouse was also closed until midday and motorways couldn’t accommodate heavy vehicles, police added.
The German weather officials said this winter ranked among the coldest in a century. In some areas, temperatures of under minus 20 Celsius were recorded overnight.
In the eastern German city of Schwerin, police hauled a drunken man taking his car for a spin on a local lake from the freezing water after the ice gave way beneath him.
Elsewhere, the Netherlands hosted a skating championship on natural ice on the frozen lakes of a nature reserve northeast of Amsterdam – the first time in 12 years.
Emerging from the coldest December since 1996, about 200 people braved heavy fog at the Oostvaardersplassen -- the men for a race of 100 kilometres and the women for 60 kilometres, broadcast live on Dutch television.
But not everyone across Europe was enjoying the icy temperatures as Russian gas cuts, introduced on Tuesday following a payment dispute with Ukraine, began to bite.
In the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, women huddled around heaters, hospitals delayed operations and animals shivered alongside oil burners in zoos.
Both Bulgaria and Serbia's governments began either partly or fully switching their gas-fired central heating plants to crude oil in response to Moscow's decision to halt gas deliveries via Ukraine.
As Sofia began rationing gas supplies to industries, 75 schools across the country closed until Friday for lack of adequate heating.
The change-over proved little comfort for residents of Serbia's northern Vojvodina province, most reliant on Russian gas, where many were left without regular heating and some factories stopped production.
About 72,000 households in the snow-blanketed Bosnian capital of Sarajevo also remained without heating for a third day due to a total halt in Moscow's gas supplies.