Cold Front Takes High Toll In Europe

WARSAW, Poland -- Europe’s Arctic cold front loosened its deadly grip Thursday, but not before claiming at least 60 more lives overnight in Ukraine, Poland and half a dozen other countries battered by a week of below-freezing temperatures.

In Ukraine alone 40 people died overnight as a result of extreme cold, bringing to at least 181 the number of deaths since temperatures plunged last week.

In Poland, the most recent 24-hour toll was 10, for an eight-day total of 63 dead. There were also deaths reported in Croatia, the Czech Republic and Romania, which registered 45 weather-related fatalities in six days.

The situation in Georgia remained critical Thursday due to massive electricity failures and a fifth day without natural gas supplies from Russia, which were abruptly cut when an explosion Sunday burst the main pipeline.

Most homes in the capital of this former Soviet republic were without gas as overnight temperatures fell as low as minus 10 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit).

The country’s problems were compounded by power cuts across the capital Tbilisi and the rest of eastern Georgia caused by snowstorms and excessive demand. Only key installations such as hospitals were being supplied with emergency electricity, a spokesman for the state-run power company told AFP.

Especially hard hit during the last eight days have been Eastern Europe’s homeless people, accounting for roughly half of all the freezing deaths reported. The dangers of exposure are often compounded by the consumption of alcohol.

The aged are also at risk, such as an 85-year-old man from a village near Dobrich, Bulgaria and an 84-year-old woman from another Bulgarian town, both found dead outside their homes Wednesday.

In Moscow, at least 500 homeless children are roaming the streets at any given time, according to Emma Bell of Doctors Without Borders, an organization that provides emergency medical care around the world.

There are no firm statistics, but officials estimate that just under half of the 100 or so people killed by cold weather in Moscow over the last eight days were living on the streets.

Across most of France, authorities stepped up their vigilance of the homeless. The city of Paris set up shelter for 300 more people on Thursday.

In Albania, where three people died overnight, a 37-year-old mentally disabled man who had gone missing on Monday was found frozen to death near his house in Durres, northwest of the capital Tirana. Two other people, in their late sixties, died of heart attacks provoked by the cold.

Even as the death toll for the weeklong deep freeze continued to climb, temperatures eased across most of eastern and central Europe, with normal winter weather forecast for Friday and the weekend.

Russia, where hundreds were estimated to have perished in the weeklong freeze, was relatively balmy as the thermometer climbed toward zero degrees C (32 degrees F).

Conditions also improved in Germany and Greece, where schools reopened and air and sea traffic slowly recovered some semblance of normalcy.

Road conditions, however, remained dangerous almost everywhere, with hundreds of accidents reported, some of them fatal.

Turkish authorities battled to open blocked roads on Thursday as snow continued to fall on the country’s biggest city Istanbul. Roads leading to several suburbs on the European side of the Bosphorus Strait remained blocked, the Anatolia news agency said.

But city authorities underlined that the main arteries were open as some 3,000 municipal employees worked round the clock to clean up the snow, which has disrupted already chaotic traffic.

Education Minister Huseyin Celik announced late Wednesday a one-week extension of the mid-term holiday for schools across the country.

The weather also continued to bedevil air and maritime traffic, with several domestic flights to the east of the country cancelled and ferry services across the Bosphorus in Istanbul disrupted.

Some 10,000 small villages have been cut off from road transport, and several hundred are without electricity or telephone service

Source: AFP