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Death toll from Europe cold snap passes 300
by Staff Writers
Kiev (AFP) Feb 5, 2012

Swiss temperature plunges to -35.1 degrees
Geneva (AFP) Feb 6, 2012 - Swiss temperatures plunged to minus 35.1 degrees Celsius in the eastern Graubuenden canton on Sunday night, weather agency MeteoSwiss said, the lowest figure recorded so far this year.

The mercury plummeted in Samedan, an Alpine region home to winter sports resorts such as St. Moritz, Pontresina and Sils-Maria.

In the west, minus 27.6 degrees was recorded in the village of La Brevine in the canton of Neuchatel.

La Brevine holds the record for being the coldest place in Switzerland, with minus 41.8 degrees measured in 1987.

In Geneva, the thermometer was at minus 10 degrees on Monday morning.

Poland's cold snap death toll hits 62
Warsaw (AFP) Feb 6, 2012 - Europe's vicious cold snap has claimed 62 lives in Poland, with nine new victims in the past 24 hours, police said Monday.

With overnight temperatures plunging to minus 24 degrees Celsius (minus 11 degrees Fahrenheit) in some parts of the country, the majority of the victims were homeless, often drunk.

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

Overall, 107 people have died of hypothermia in Poland since winter hit in November. The current cold snap began at the end of January.

In neighbouring Lithuania, where the mercury has plunged to minus 31 Celsius (minus 24 Fahrenheit), the deaths of six more people over the weekend brought the cold snap's toll to 17.

In the Czech Republic, police said a homeless man was found dead in the eastern city of Brno, lifting that country's toll to 18.

In 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.

Heathrow airport resumes flights after snow cancellations
London (AFP) Feb 6, 2012 - London's Heathrow Airport returned almost to normal on Monday after heavy snow forced hundreds of flight cancellations over the weekend, leaving thousands of passengers stranded.

"Heathrow is open and our usual flight schedule is operating today," said a statement from the airport, the world's busiest air hub in terms of international passenger traffic.

"There will, however, be a handful of cancellations as result of yesterday's disruption. We advise passengers to contact their airlines to check before they come to the airport."

Heathrow had cancelled half of the 1,300 flights planned for Sunday as snow and fog descended on Britain, part of a European-wide cold snap that has claimed more than 300 lives.

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 authorities on Sunday found the body of a homeless man who had frozen to death, bringing to at least 306 the number of cold-related deaths reported across Europe.

With night-time temperatures plunging as low as minus 40 Celsius (minus 40 Fahrenheit) in Finland, the grim winter toll also rose in other countries.

Italy, Poland and Ukraine all recorded more deaths.

Ukraine announced another nine deaths, bring their total to 131 -- most of them homeless people who perished on the streets since the freeze started nine days ago, Ukraine's emergencies ministry said.

Some 1,800 people had been hospitalised, and 75,000 people had sought warmth and food in over 3,000 shelters across Ukraine.

The bitter cold front has engulfed much 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.

In Rome, traffic was virtually paralysed by black ice as snow covered the city.

As residents resorted to sawing through fallen trees blocking the roads, many people said they had had no assistance from the authorities.

"It's awful. I had to walk two hours through freezing temperatures just to get to the metro," Rome resident Federico Maneski said. "The area is full of trees that have fallen on cars but no one's come to help us."

The Italian death toll reached 17 when three homeless people were found dead, while two men suffered heart attacks as they shovelled snow in the Abruzzo region and Campania regions.

London's Heathrow Airport, the world's busiest passenger air hub, cancelled half of Sunday's 1,300 flights after it was blanketed in six centimetres (2.4 inches) of snow. Heavy snow falls in other parts of Britain left motorway drivers stranded overnight.

The cold claimed eight new victims in Poland, bringing that country's toll to 53, and in Serbia, which has recorded nine deaths, authorities declared states of emergency in 32 municipalities, mostly in the south and southwest.

Almost 70,000 people remained cut off in snowed-in Serbian villages, with police and military units providing basic necessities, said Predrag Maric, the police official in charge of Serbia's emergency services.

In Romania, six new deaths brought the toll there to 34.

But there was better news in Croatia, where a woman gave birth to a girl with the help of two neighbours after emergency services were unable to reach her as she went into labour in a village cut off by a blizzard.

She named her daughter Snjezana -- "Snow-White" in Croatian.

Overnight temperatures in Finland plummeted to minus 40 degrees Celsius (minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit), but that did not deter many Helsinki voters from turning out to vote in a presidential election.

Motorists were warned of more arctic winds and slick roads and poor visibility because of powdery snow.

Similar conditions led to pile-ups Friday near Helsinki, in which more than 200 cars were involved, and about 40 people taken to hospital.

The cold spell is forecast to last until at least the middle of the week.

Hope grows for unique Dutch ice skate marathon
The Hague (AFP) Feb 6, 2012 - The Dutch are 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, but organisers said Monday the ice was still too thin.

"At this point we cannot set a date. It all depends on the weather," Wiebe Wieling, chairman of the Society for the Frisian Elf Steden (11 cities), the race organiser, told a press conference in the northern city of Leeuwarden, broadcast on national television.

"Although we have excellent quality ice in northern Friesland, there is a problem area in the south -- the ice is simply too thin," Wieling said.

"Today we can unfortunately not give any conclusion (whether the race will be held)," he said.

Officially skated for the first time in 1909, the so-called Elfstedentocht (Eleven Cities Race) is a race over 200 kilometres (120 miles) on the frozen canals that run through Friesland province's main cities.

Seen as the Netherlands' ultimate ultra-race, it can only be held if the ice is thick enough -- at 15 centimetres (six inches) -- to hold some 16,000 skaters, cheered on by two million spectators, Wieling said.

Since 1909, the Elfstedentocht has only been skated 15 times, notably three times in a row during World War II in 1940, 41 and 42, making it a rare event that has been dominating headlines in the Dutch media since cold weather set in a week ago.

Dependent on weather conditions, the race had no set date and race organisers usually give 48 hours' notice before its start, setting in motion an army of volunteers to prepare for the invasion of skaters and spectators.

Wieling said Monday more inspections would be done, particularly in southern Friesland with the next announcement on ice conditions expected by Wednesday.

"Our motto is that if it's too dangerous, we won't do it," he added.

The record time for completing the race was set in 1985 at six hours, 47 minutes, according to race organisers' official website.

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Italy's ENI warns of possible gas supply cuts
Rome (AFP) Feb 6, 2012 - Shortfalls in gas imports from Russia could force Italian energy giant ENI to start cutting off supplies to corporate customers from Thursday, ENI said, as a minister described the situation as "critical".

"We are in an emergency and we have reacted to this emergency by increasing gas imports from Algeria and from northern Europe via Switzerland," ENI chief executive Paolo Scaroni told Rai radio news channel Radio 24 on Monday.

"We won't have problems until Wednesday," Scaroni said.

The ENI boss said: "We are expecting another cold wave in Russia and we don't know how (Russian gas giant) Gazprom will behave on Thursday and Friday. We are preparing for difficult times ahead."

He said the first companies to be cut off would be those "that have contracts that allow for an interruption in gas flows."

The economic development ministry is hosting a crisis meeting on Tuesday.

"The situation is certainly critical because the flows from Russia and France have diminished but the situation is being monitored," Economic Development Minister Corrado Passera told reporters.

"Yesterday we passed into a state of emergency because consumption was at its highest ever and so we have to be ready for demand being even higher than forecast," he said.

Gazprom on Saturday said it could not pump additional gas to Western Europe following drops in supplies registered in Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.

The shortfall in Russian supplies to Italy has been around 30 percent.

59,000 homes without power as freeze grips Italy
Rome (AFP) Feb 6, 2012 - Temperatures fell to minus 10 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit) in Milan on Monday as 59,000 households remained without electricity in Italy and officials declared a gas supply emergency.

"The situation is certainly critical because the flows from Russia and France have diminished but the situation is being monitored," Economic Development Minister Corrado Passera told reporters.

The death toll from the rare cold snap in Italy meanwhile rose to 17, with eight deaths reported on Sunday including three homeless people found in the seaside town of Ostia near Rome and at the capital's train station.

A 37-year-old Sri Lankan migrant was also found dead in a shack in Tuscany.

Snow began falling in the outskirts of Naples and snowed-in villages around Rome began organising soup kitchens because of the power outage.

Schools and public offices in the Italian capital also remained closed.

The Abruzzo region declared a state of emergency and the army sent 530 soldiers and 90 snow ploughs and bulldozers to clear the roads. There were also major traffic delays in the the port of Ancona and the Marche region.

A Greek ferry with 360 passengers, 160 trucks and 70 cars on board which arrived in Ancona on Sunday had still not unloaded because of the conditions.

The Tuscan cities of Siena and Arezzo, where a total of 36,000 households have been without power for days, said they were considering lawsuits against Italian power giant Enel.


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Europe cold snap claims 260 lives, sends ferry aground
Rome (AFP) Feb 4, 2012
Hundreds of people were plucked to safety Saturday after a ferry caught in a snow storm hit a breakwater off Italy, as a vicious cold snap that has claimed over 260 lives across Europe maintained its grip. Ukraine has suffered the heaviest toll of 122 deaths, including many people who froze to death in the streets, as temperatures plunged to as low as minus 38.1 degrees Celsius (minus 36.5 F ... read more

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