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Deadly cold front continues as dam bursts in Bulgaria
by Staff Writers
Warsaw (AFP) Feb 5, 2012

Cold snap kills 12 in Hungary in three days
Budapest (AFP) Feb 6, 2012 - The cold snap gripping swathes of Europe killed 12 people in Hungary over the past three days, authorities said on Monday, in the country's first announcement of fatalities.

"Twelve people have died from the cold in the last three days, 55 people have been evacuated and 172 accidents have been reported," the OKW emergencies authority said in a statement.

Hungary has reported temperatures of as low as minus 24 degrees Celsius (minus 11.2 degrees Fahrenheit) in the north and of minus 20 in the capital Budapest overnight Sunday to Monday.

The country is under a blanket of snow, causing traffic jams and delays on public transport.

Police said meanwhile that they had "saved from death by hypothermia" a group of around 40 migrants found shivering in woods over the weekend near the south-western border with Serbia.

"The illegal migrants, Libyans, Afghans and Algerians, were hiding between bushes in a small wood. In the snow and the temperature minus 15, they would certainly have perished," police spokesman Laszlo Garamvolgyi told reporters.

The toll from Europe's killer cold snap hit at least 360 on Monday with nine new victims found in Poland, most of them homeless, and five drowned when a Bulgarian dam burst after torrential rain.

The rain and snowstorms lashing southern Bulgaria collapsed the dam early Monday, submerging the small village of Biser under 2.5 metres (eight feet) of water, emergency services said.

Biser mayor Zlatka Valkova told state news agency BTA three elderly men had drowned in their homes and a massive rescue effort was under way in the village of about 800 people. National radio reported two other people were killed when their car was swept off a bridge.

"People are in panic," regional mayor Mihail Liskov said on national radio. "Ninety percent of the village is under water."

Two larger dams in southern Bulgaria risked spilling over and residents were told to prepare to evacuate. Heavy rains also triggered a landslide that derailed a train near the Turkish border. No injuries were reported.

Meanwhile, temperatures in Poland plunged to as low as minus 24 degrees Celsius (minus 11 Fahrenheit), bringing another deadly night for the homeless.

As has been the case throughout the 10-day-old cold snap, transients have borne the brunt of the suffering, with frozen victims found in abandoned and unheated homes, fire escapes or makeshift shelters on Europe's streets.

In a bid to save lives, Poland's homeless shelters have dropped a ban on drunken individuals.

Monika Golebiewska, a Warsaw police officer whose beat is a daily patrol bringing food and clothing to the homeless in the city's hardscrabble Praga district, said she has been unrelentingly busy since the cold snap started.

"New (fatal) cases are reported to us daily. Just today we got calls telling us about two new ones, one of someone who was living in a tent and another of someone in an abandoned train station," Golebiewska said. "I've got more and more people to feed, but just 40 portions of soup a day."

Overall, 107 people have died of hypothermia in Poland since winter hit in November. The current cold snap began at the end of January and across the continent, authorities have reported at least 360 weather-related deaths.

In neighbouring Lithuania, where the mercury has dipped to minus 31 Celsius (minus 24 Fahrenheit), the deaths of 12 more people over the weekend brought the cold snap's toll to 23.

Hungarian authorities have reported at least 12 dead since the onset of the cold.

Italian authorities continued to clear up after a rare snow storm blanketed Rome over the weekend and crews struggled to restore power to about 60,000 homes across the country, especially in the Tuscan cities of Siena and Arezzo.

Italian energy giant ENI warned earned it may have to cut gas supplied to customers after shortfalls in gas imports from Russia.

Elsewhere across Europe, authorities struggled to clear clogged roads and runways that left tens of thousands of travellers stranded over the weekend.

After cancelling half its flights Sunday, operators of London's Heathrow Airport, the world's busiest passenger hub, said its schedule was almost back to normal Monday.

While parts of Britain were beginning to warm above freezing, other European nations remained in an icy grip.

In the Czech town of Kvilda, near the Czech-German border, the temperature hit minus 39.4 Celsius (minus 38.92 Fahrenheit), the lowest recorded in the country this winter.

Switzerland also recorded year lows, dropping to minus 35.1 Celsius (minus 31 Fahrenheit) in the eastern Graubuenden canton on Sunday night.

The bitter cold has engulfed most of Europe and even crossed the Mediterranean into north Africa, where as many as 16 people were killed on Algeria's snow-slicked roads or in other weather-related accidents.

Rare snow also fell in southern Tunisia for the first timme in some 40 years, media reported, with temperatures well below freezing in some areas of the country and villages cut off.

In France, 39 of the country's 101 regions were on alert for deep cold or snow, down from more than half the regions at the weekend, as a new record for electricity consumption was predicted later Monday.

Five people have died in weather-related incidents since the cold snap hit France, the latest a 56-year-old homeless man who is believed to have succumbed to hypothermia in a suburb of Paris.

People in the Netherlands, however, were sharpening their skates in the hope that a legendary long-distance race on frozen canals may be held for the first time in 15 years, though organisers cautioned Monday the ice was still too thin.


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Ukraine blames 'alcohol abuse' for winter death toll
Kiev (AFP) Feb 6, 2012 - Ukraine on Monday blamed alcohol abuse as the main cause of deaths caused by a spell of abnormally cold weather that has claimed at least 135 lives over the last 10 days.

"The main reason for the deaths is alcohol abuse," said Grygoriy Marchenko, the head of rescue forces at the Ukrainian emergencies ministry.

He told reporters that the most dead were recorded in the heavily industrial and densely-populated Donetsk region in the east of the country. "The government has done all it could for people to find help," he added.

Marchenko said 135 people are now confirmed to have died as a result of the cold weather, raising Sunday's toll of 131. Some died on their homes or in hospitals but most froze to death on the streets.

He said that more than 3,300 shelters had been set up where those in need could find warmth and basic hot food, while the government ordered railways stations and cafes not to "chase out" homeless people seeking to warm up.

Temperatures have eased slightly in the last two days but could again plunge as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius at the end of this week, forecasters said.


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Death toll from Europe cold snap passes 300
Kiev (AFP) Feb 5, 2012
The deadly cold snap that has gripped Europe for more than a week wrought more havoc across the continent Sunday, straining emergency services, grounding flights and pushing the death toll past 300. The homeless population has borne the brunt of the suffering, with dozens of transients freezing to death in unheated apartments, fire escapes or in makeshift street shelters. French authorit ... read more

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