Cold snap in Europe claims 13 more lives

9th January 2009, Comments 0 comments

The bitter winter costs 13 more lives while road and rail transport suffered massive disruptions.

WARSAW – Europe's cold snap claimed up to 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, according to the ministry of emergency situations.

While German police said Thursday 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 towards Spain, the airport at Toulouse was also closed until midday and motorways were also refusing to accept heavy vehicles, police added.

The German weather office said Thursday this winter ranked among the coldest in a century. In some areas, temperatures of under minus 20 Celsius were recorded overnight.

In the east German city of Schwerin police hauled a drunken man, who had decided to take his car for a spin on a local lake, from the freezing water after the ice gave way beneath him.

Elsewhere, the Netherlands hosted for the first time in 12 years a skating championship on natural ice on the frozen lakes of a nature reserve northeast of Amsterdam.

Emerging from the coldest December since 1996, some 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 Sarajevo also remained without heating for a third day due to a total halt in Moscow's gas supplies.

On Thursday the Czech presidency of the European Union said the bloc was ill-prepared for the gas crisis and needs better contingency planning and infrastructure.

It added that two-thirds of the 27 EU member states had been hit by the Russia-Ukraine energy dispute after Moscow turned off the gas tap which runs through Ukraine and provides some 40 percent of Europe's imports of natural gas.

EU-sponsored talks between Moscow and Kiev aimed at resolving the dispute collapsed Thursday with disagreements on the deployment of independent monitors to check the flow of Russian gas through Ukraine.

The Czech presidency of the EU said late Thursday, however, that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had agreed on the conditions for deploying monitors.

[AFP / Expatica]

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