A group of children cross the frozen Vistula River between Poniatowski and Lazienkowski Bridge in the centre of Warsaw February 5, 2012
Agence France-Presse | Feb 7, 2012
by Stephanie van den Berg
BELGRADE — Authorities used explosives, icebreakers and tractors Tuesday in the battle to overcome Europe’s big freeze, as dozens more died of hypothermia and tens of thousands remained cut off by snow.
Around 400 people have now died from the cold weather in Europe since the cold snap began 11 days ago.
While there was some respite for people in Ukraine — where more than 130 deaths have been recorded — the mercury plunged overnight to minus 39.4 degrees Celsius in the Kvilda region of the Czech Republic.
More bodies were found either on the streets, in their cars or in their homes in Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Hungary and across the Balkans.
Authorities in Serbia said that 70,000 people were trapped in snow-bound villages in the south as officials declared an “emergency situation.”
In a dramatic effort to prevent two of the country’s main waterways from becoming completely blocked, officials called up army explosive experts.
As ice layers threatened to cause widespread floods on the Ibar, Alexander Prodanovic, the country’s top water official, said dynamite would be detonated to break up the huge blocks which had formed.
Authorities also hired icebreaking ships from Hungary to ease the flow on the Danube, the main waterway for all commercial shipping in Serbia. The port authority said the Danube was navigable around Belgrade but with difficulty.
There was similar chaos elsewhere in the Balkans with train linking Croatia’s central coastal town of Split and the capital Zagreb derailing as a result of a snow drift. There were no reports of injuries.
The army, firefighters and rescue services were trying to get food and medicine to the population in several hundred villages in southern Croatia where snow up to 1.4 metres high was piled up.
“This is a disaster, we have been cut off from the rest of the world … Snowploughs cannot reach us, so we have to walk to get some bread and basic things,” Marko Ancic told the Slobodna Dalmacija daily after trekking some 17 kilometres from his village to reach the nearest town.
Large parts of eastern and southern Bosnia were also cut off by the snow and avalanches. There has been no contact since Friday with the hamlet of Zijemlje, some 30 kilometres from the town of Mostar.
“We don’t know what is going on there. They have not had electricity since Friday and phone lines are cut, they have no running water,” Radovan Palavestra, the mayor of Mostar, told AFP.
“There are elderly people who are very fragile and children including a baby of two months.”
A helicopter which should have flown in aid to Zijemlje was unable to take off Tuesday morning because of heavy snowfall.
In Romania, two heavily pregnant women had to be flown out by helicopter in the eastern area of Iasi after their villages were completely cut off. Another pregnant woman had to be ferried to hospital by tractor in the eastern Paltinis area after her ambulance became stuck in the snow.
Schools were shut in large parts of the country, including Bucharest, while many train services were cancelled. Around 40% of roads were also closed, although flights did resume from Bucharest airport.
Snowstorms lashed Bulgaria, a day after eight people drowned in raging rivers and the icy waters from a broken dam that submerged a whole village to the southeast.
Officials on Tuesday warned of flooding when temperatures go up and snow melts.
European Commissioner for Crisis Response Kristalina Georgieva said “the worst is yet to come” after she visited Biser, which was worst hit by the flooding from the broken dam.
“The next two weeks may be really hard. The warmer weather will cause melting of the snow and the situation will most probably worsen,” private broadcaster bTV quoted her as saying.
A Briton living on the Greek island of Symi drowned in a river which had been swollen by heavy rains as he tried to move his moped to safety.
Eleven people have died so far from the cold and snow in Serbia, with the latest victim a 62-year-old man found dead a kilometre from his home near Arilje in western Serbia and a woman killed by falling ice in the capital Belgrade.
In the central city of Kragujevac, authorities took inmates from a local jail to help clear snow, local media said.
To the south in Albania, the Kukes lake on the border with Kosovo – supplying a hydropower plant at Fierze – was frozen over for the first time in more than a decade, putting more pressure on already strained power supplies.
The numbers killed by hypothermia in Poland rose to 68 after the authorities there recorded another six deaths in the last 24 hours. The majority of those who have died were homeless, many of whom had been drinking heavily.
The cold snap has also seen a sharp rise in the number of people being killed by carbon monoxide poisoning from faulty gas heaters.
According to the state weather forecaster in Ukraine, temperatures there could rise to a relatively modest minus six degrees. But the respite will be short-lived with temperatures expected to plunge to minus 30 by the weekend.
The UN weather service said temperatures would remain low until March.
“We might expect the change in the current cold wave to to start easing from the start of next week up to the end of the month,” Omar Baddour, a scientist at the World Meteorological Organization, told reporters.
It was a similar message from Britain where forecasters said the cold spell could last for two more weeks and heavy snow at the weekend.
And in France, authorities appealed to households to save power where possible as they predicted electricity use could hit a record high.
The cold weather has increased demand for gas in many European countries.
Italy took emergency measures on Monday to deal with what it called critical shortages of Russian gas following the icy weather, while supplies to other members of the European Union mostly improved at the weekend but remained below normal.
Russia, which supplies about a quarter of Europe’s natural gas, reduced westward flows through pipelines across Ukraine last week citing greater domestic demand because of the extreme weather.