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163 dead as cold snap grips Europe
by Staff Writers
Warsaw (AFP) Feb 2, 2012

Freeze kills homeless man in Milan
Rome (AFP) Feb 2, 2012 - A homeless man died in Milan on Thursday as a result of the freezing weather, bringing to three the number of people killed in Italy in recent days as a result of the adverse weather conditions.

More than 2,000 people were also left without power in Tuscany including 1,500 in the mediaeval city of Siena, with the snow blanketing swathes of central and northern Italy and the frost biting in Alpine regions.

The situation "is particularly critical," said Franco Gabrielli, head of the civil protection agency. He said emergency services would be on alert and transport authorities would work to unblock road and rail snarls.

Schools were closed in Rome, where up to 15 centimetres (5.9 inches) of snow are expected in the night between Friday and Saturday.

A cold snap kept Europe in its icy grip Thursday, pushing the death toll to 163 as countries from Ukraine to Italy struggled with temperatures that plunged to record lows in some places.

Entire villages were cut off in parts of eastern Europe, trapping thousands, while road, air and rail links were severed and gas consumption shot up during what has been the severest winter in decades in some regions.

In Ukraine, tens of thousands headed to shelters to escape the freeze that emergencies services said has killed 63 people -- most of them frozen to death in the streets, some succumbing to the hypothermia later in hospitals.

Nine more people died in Poland as the mercury dropped to minus 32 Celsius (minus 25.6 Fahrenheit) in some parts, bringing the country's toll to 29 since the fearsome spell of cold weather started last week, police said.

Homeless people in the region are at highest risk, warned the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

"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 dont 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 more than 100,000 euros ($140,000) from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to boost the aid effort.

Russian gas giant Gazprom, meanwhile, said it had boosted deliveries to Europe, while several European countries reported drops in Russian supplies, with operators in Austria and Slovakia both reporting falls of 30 percent.

Ukraine -- the transit point for most Russian gas headed to Europe -- denied it was taking a greater than usual share of the gas.

Tens of thousands of people in Ukraine have sought help in more than 2,000 temporary shelters as temperatures fell to minus 33 degrees Celsius 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 country's overall toll to 22, the health ministry said. Schools remained closed in some parts.

In Bulgaria, at least 10 people have died, according to media.

With parts of the Danube river 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 became the ninth victim of the deep chill.

In Estonia, organisers had to postpone a trio of cross-country skiing events after temperatures plunged to minus 30. Many Friday and weekend sports events have been cancelled elesewhere on the continent.

In north and central Italy, hundreds were trapped overnight on trains as freezing temperatures and heavy snowfalls caused widespread transport chaos.

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". In Paris, the army set aside nearly 600 places in military buildings to shelter the homeless from the cold.

Two people died in Austria, and 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.

In Belgrade, homeless people unable to secure one of the 140 spots in the capital's sole shelter took refuge in trolley buses and trams.

In neighbouring Bosnia, several remote hamlets in the east were cut off, forcing helicopter airdrops of food and supplies this week.


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Ukrainians flee to shelters amid big freeze
Kiev (AFP) Feb 2, 2012 - Shivering and hungry, tens of thousands of Ukrainians have sought help in temporary shelters set up by the authorities to help the poor survive a fearsome spell of cold weather that has killed dozens.

With temperatures falling to minus 33 degrees Celsius in the Carpathians in the west of the country and minus 27 in Kiev, officials have rushed to set up over 2,000 shelters nationwide where the most vulnerable can stay warm.

Most of the 63 people the emergency services say lost their lives as a result of cold weather have literally frozen to death on the street, with only a handful making it to hospital before succumbing to hypothermia.

According to officials, over 40,000 people have flocked to 2,000 emergency shelters set up by the authorities, mostly large tents that guarantee warmth and hot food.

"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, an out-of-work engineer after visiting a shelter in Kiev.

The shelter in a Kiev park -- essentially a large military-style tent -- is already the scene of numerous stories of personal tragedy that have been exposed by the bitterly cold weather.

Two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, many Ukrainians still eke out a precarious existence on the poverty line which can leave them homeless and unable to feed themselves.

Lyudmila Vinichenko, 48, who came with her daughter Tamara, 10, has had to leave the room she was renting and they have been sleeping in the waiting room at the Kiev railway station.

"We come here to eat and warm ourselves up a bit. The aid workers offered us places to sleep here but we are going back to the station," she said, taking clothes and a blanket.

"They gave us something to eat and pills for headaches," she said.

Her daughter chimed in: "I like it here, it's hot, beautiful and the food is delicious."

The conditions inside the shelter are relatively spartan -- food is limited to basic pasta, porridge and slices of salo, the cured fat that is a staple of Ukrainian cooking.

The furniture is limited to four tables with plastic covers and a few simple beds.

Those in need are impressed with the help they are given and thank the workers. But they express frustration that the government has not widely publicised the existence of the shelters, meaning some risk being left out on their own.

Viktor, 35, normally works at the market but has been unable to work over the last days as the markets were closed due to the cold. He rents a room at a university hostel but fears he risks losing it as he has no money.

He refuses to give his last name. "I don't want my mother to find out what has happened to me."

"It is better that I stay here than I die of the cold," he said grimly.

"They say that dozens have died of the cold but these are just the official figures. And how many of them have not been found? One of my friends froze just last week."

Emergencies worker Andriy Movchan says those who come to the shelter are for the most part male and unemployed or homeless, aged between 40-60.

Volodymyr, 41, is homeless, dressed in ripped clothes with a weather-beaten face.

"The main thing is that this help exists," he said.

"This is my first winter outside. It's interesting. Especially when you wake up and you no longer feel your frozen legs. And you have to walk so that the blood circulates."


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Death toll climbs as heavy snow grips Japan
Tokyo (AFP) Feb 2, 2012
Heavy snow that has blanketed northern Japan for weeks, triggering avalanches and affecting transport networks, has left at least 55 people dead, officials said Thursday. In one of the country's coldest winters in recent years, 43 people have died as they removed snow from roofs or roads, while seven more were crushed by heavy loads of snow falling from buildings or other structures, the dis ... read more

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