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Europe sends in ice-breakers to battle big chill
by Staff Writers
Belgrade (AFP) Feb 7, 2012

Two icebreakers make their way on the partly frozen Spree river on February 5, 2012 in Berlin. The Arctic cold snap that has hit Europe for over a week had claimed nearly 300 lives by February 5, 2012, brought air travel chaos to London and dumped snow as far south as Rome and even North Africa. Photo courtesy AFP.

No let-up in Europe's big chill until next week: WMO
Geneva (AFP) Feb 7, 2012 - The big freeze in Europe that has claimed the lives of around 400 people should start to ease next week but low temperatures will remain until the end of the month, the UN's weather service said Tuesday.

Omar Baddour, a scientest at the World Meteorological Organization, told reporters that a Siberian high pressure system and maritime storms moving east from the Atlantic Ocean over Europe was preventing milder temperatures.

"Part of the explanation is the so-called Arctic Oscillation which is the difference in pressure between Polar areas and mid-latitude areas, where most of the population in Europe lives," he said at the WMO's Geneva headquarters.

Currently there is a negative Arctic Oscillation which favours cold conditions in Europe and relatively warmer conditions in the Arctic.

"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," he added.

Temperatures have dipped to close to minus 40 degrees Celsius in parts of central Europe but Baddour said that the cold spell was "not exceptional".

"All these minimum temperatures are not new records," he said.

Authorities employed 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 and forecasters warned there would be no early let-up to some of the lowest temperatures seen in decades.

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 (-38.9 Fahrenheit) 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 (4.6 feet) 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 (10 miles) 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 percent 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.

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.

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.


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Italy to hold gas talks as cold snap toll hits 26
Rome (AFP) Feb 7, 2012 - Italy was set to hold emergency talks on Tuesday aimed at maximising gas supplies to vulnerable households as the cold snap tightened its grip on the country and the death toll rose to 26.

Life in the centre of Rome returned to normal after days of chaos in the wake of the heaviest snowfall in 27 years, but schools remained closed and thousands in the surrounding region were still without electricity or heating.

Snow continued to fall in the north of Italy, with temperatures dropping to minus 25 degrees Celsius (minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit) in Marcesina on the shores of Lake Garda, and black ice in Calabria and Sardegna in the south.

A 68-year-old lorry driver from Bologna, who froze to death in his vehicle after sleeping in it, was found on Monday. The bodies of a pensioner and a homeless Moldovan woman were also discovered several days after they died.

In the town of L'Aquila, devastated by an earthquake in 2009, snowed-in residents warned of food shortages and wolves scavenged in the white, deserted streets of the nearby town of Trasacco, the Corriere della Sera daily said.

The economic development ministry activated a plan Monday to reduce gas supplies to industrial clients and switch from gas to oil-fired power stations amid fears of another cold wave in Russia which could limit supplies to Italy.

"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.

Energy policy expert and former minister Alberto Clo' told Il Mattino newspaper: "There is no need to panic, Italy will not run out of gas."

"There won't be any scenes like The Day After Tomorrow," he said, in reference to the 2004 apocalyptic film about a modern-day ice age.

"After a mild winter and with industry running at low capacity, we haven't drawn very much yet from our reserves," he 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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