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Europe's Danube freezes over, cold snap toll at 460
by Staff Writers
Belgrade (AFP) Feb 9, 2012

Russia's balmy south hit by record low temperatures
Moscow (AFP) Feb 9, 2012 - Record low temperatures have hit Russia's normally balmy south as the country remained in the grip of an abnormally cold winter, weather forecasters said on Thursday.

"The Otradnaya meteo station has today recorded a temperature of minus 28.2 Celsius in the southeast of the Krasnodar region, (and) minus 20.1 Celsius at Dzhubga on the Black Sea," said the Russian Hydrometeorological Research Centre.

Temperatures at the resort town of Anapa plunged to between minus 15 and minus 18 Celsius, it said in a statement. Winter temperatures on the palm-dotted Black Sea coast rarely fall below zero.

"Historic winter records have been broken in Russia's south," added the Moscow-based Fobos weather forecaster.

"Comparing the records with climate extremes you realise that this has not happened before, (or) at least for the last 100-120 years," said Fobos, suggesting the extreme cold could affect the fruit harvest.

The bitter cold has claimed 110 lives across Russia since the start of the year, according to the health ministry.

Bulgaria halts electricity exports amid cold snap
Sofia (AFP) Feb 9, 2012 - Bulgaria is to halt electricity exports over its inability to guarantee local consumption in the cold spell gripping the country this week, the economy and energy ministry said Thursday.

"Due to persisting heavy winter conditions in the country we will stop electricity exports as of 1:00 am Friday (2300 GMT Thursday)," the ministry said in a statement.

"The decision is necessitated by the shortage of about 400 megawatts per hour for the local market," it added.

Bulgaria exports an average 1,000 megawatts of electricity per hour to neighbouring Greece, Serbia, Macedonia and Turkey.

But the ministry said it had already switched on all its reserve capacities to cover increased domestic demand as temperatures dipped to minus 28.6 degrees Celsius (-19.5 Fahrenheit) in the northwestern town of Vidin early Thursday.

The situation was aggraveted by problems with production at the US-owned AES Galabovo coal-fired plant in southern Bulgaria, it added without elaborating.

Severe flooding had disrupted coal supplies to all four plants in the Maritza East complex near Galabovo this week as miners could not get down to work in the three open pit mines in the region.

"Electricity exports will resume when we recover the reserves necessary to guarantee safe and uninterrupted home supply," the ministry said Thursday.

Bulgaria is a key electricity exporter on the Balkans sending abroad 10.5 billion kilowatt hours last year.

Thick ice closed vast swathes of the Danube on Thursday, crippling shipping on Europe's busiest waterway, as the death toll from bitter cold across the continent rose to at least 460.

As it has every day for nearly two weeks, the brutal cold claimed lives in several countries and killed dozens more in weather-related accidents.

The 2,860-kilometre (1,780-mile) Danube, which flows through 10 countries and is vital for transport, power, irrigation, industry and fishing, was wholly or partially blocked from Austria to its mouth on the Black Sea.

Navigation was impossible or restricted in Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Austria, as ice covered the river or formed dangerous floes in shipping lanes.

An official from the Serbian economy ministry said the commercial repercussions "could be very bad", while infrastructure ministry official Pavle Galico said shipping would not resume for 10 days.

Bulgarian authorities, who have banned all navigation on the river, reported 224 vessels stuck in ports, and Ukrainian rescuers in Croatia reached three crew members on a ship trapped in the ice since Friday.

Temperatures in Bulgaria dropped to a new record low Thursday of minus 28.6 degrees Celsius (minus 19.5 Fahrenheit) in the northwestern town of Vidin. The country has halted all power exports due to the cold snap.

So far, 28 people have been killed in Bulgaria as a result of the weather, including eight who drowned when the icy waters of a small dam swept through their village of Biser in the southeast.

Serbian railways, meanwhile, said the famed Balkan Express train that runs from Belgrade to Istanbul would only go as far as Sofia for now because of the flooding in Bulgaria.

In the Czech Republic, another homeless man froze to death in Kolin, bringing the country's toll to 25, and forecasters said temperatures could plunge to minus 40 Celsius in the mountains and minus 25 Celsius in Prague on Saturday night.

Another blast of freezing weather was also predicted for Italy, even as soldiers worked to free villages trapped in three metres of snow and with the death toll from the cold snap already at 43.

Forecasts said freezing winds would pick up later Thursday and bring more snow on Friday and Saturday to Rome, just recovering from its biggest snowfall in decades.

The Croatian city of Split has seen a spike in bone fractures in recent days as hundreds of people have slipped on icy roads.

The city's mayor blamed high taxes on footwear for preventing residents of the coastal town from buying proper winter boots.

The claim was met with outrage by many inhabitants of Split, where the city's hospital ran through a two-year supply of plaster in five days. They said the city had reacted inadequately to the cold snap.

Electricity consumption was peaking in Serbia and state-run power utility EPS imposed a limit on supply to some large firms, warning that households and companies could face power rationing if consumption is not reined in.

Germany was forced Wednesday to draw on its reserves for producing electricity for the second time this winter.

More than 2,000 roads were blocked in Turkey by heavy snows and frigid temperatures stretched as far south as north Africa.

In Ukraine, worst hit by the big freeze, ice over the Kerch Strait linking the Sea of Azov to the Black Sea has trapped 126 boats, 120 of them foreign, the emergencies ministry said.

Forecasters also said temperatures were expected to plunge further at the weekend, to as low as minus 30 Celsius in some regions.

While many in Europe were fed up with the bitter cold, residents in the Netherlands were disappointed with a slight warming in that country that resulted in a legendary ice-skating race along canals being cancelled.

The race has not been run since 1997.

In France, police said the body of an 83-year-old man was found near a forest in the northwestern town of Fougeres. It was at least the seventh death in the country believed to have been caused by the cold snap.

The freezing weather continued in France on Thursday, with 52 of the country's 101 regions on alert for deep cold or snow.

Authorities have warned of possible power cuts after electricity use hit a record of more than 100,000 megawatts at peak evening times on Wednesday.


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Ice shuts Danube in half-a-dozen countries
Belgrade (AFP) Feb 9, 2012 - Thick ice has closed hundreds of kilometres (miles) of the Danube river in half-a-dozen countries and confined scores of ships to port on the busiest European waterway, officials said Thursday.

The 2,860-kilometre (1,780-mile) river, which flows through 10 countries and is vital for transport, power, irrigation, industry and fishing, was wholly or partially blocked from Austria to its mouth on the Black Sea.

With ice floes in the river around Belgrade up to half a metre (1.7 feet) thick, the Belgrade port authority said that all vessels on the 600-kilometre stretch through Serbia were safely in port.

A government ban on navigation on all the country's waterways was expected to remain in place for some 10 days, deputy infrastructure minister Pavle Galic told the Beta news agency.

Officials in Serbia and Croatia said they could not yet oversee the economic effects of the shipping ban on the Danube.

"It is too soon to tell but it could be very bad," an official from the Serbian economy ministry told AFP.

Upstream in Croatia an rescue operation was underway to help the three-member crew of a Croatian vessel trapped in the ice near the main Danube port of Vukovar since Friday and running out of food, port official Ivan Barovic said.

All shipping has been halted since Wednesday on the 137 kilometres (85 miles) of the Danube flowing through Croatia, Barovic told AFP.

Serbian railways meanwhile said Thursday that the famed Balkan Express train that runs from Belgrade to Istanbul would only go as far as Sofia for the time being because of flooding in Bulgaria related to the cold snap.

Top Serbian water official Aleksandar Prodanovic said he hoped for a slow thaw by some five degrees Celsius daily "so the snow melts slowly and causes no bigger problems."

A quick rise in temperature could trigger floods because of the high levels of snow in Serbia which is up to 1.5 metres in some parts, he told Radio Belgrade.

Serbian President Boris Tadic also stressed preventive measures must be taken to deal with possible land slides and floods triggered by melting snow in the coming weeks, Tanjug news agency reported.

Tajic was speaking on a visit to western Serbia to visit villages affected by the ongoing cold snap which has cut off some 70,000 people from the outside world in the region.

Bulgarian authorities, who have also banned all navigation on the river, reported the Danube frozen between 50 and 90 percent, while a total of 224 vessels were stuck in six ports and a river channel in Bulgaria.

In Romania the river was completely frozen along a 120-kilometre stretch between Moldova Veche and Turnu Severin at the Serbian end, and a further 117 kilometres downstream between Calarasi and Harsova, as well as at Isakcha, in the Danube delta.

Upstream in Hungary ships were still being allowed on the Danube but "at their own risk" the authorities said, adding that ice was covering between 60 and 70 percent of the river

But in Austria navigation was impossible as the river had an ice layer up to 12 centimetres (4.7 inches) thick in parts.

"For the Danube to freeze we need temperatures of under minus 10 Celsius (14 Fahrenheit) for at least a week. That is currently the case," the river traffic body Via Donau said.


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Italy braces for new wave of freezing weather
Rome (AFP) Feb 9, 2012
Italy braced for another wave of freezing weather Thursday, even as soldiers worked to free villages trapped in three metres of snow and with the death toll from the cold snap already at 43. "The cold wave from the Arctic will hit northeast Italy first," said Franco Gabrielli, the head of the civil protection agency who has been put in charge of dealing with the weather emergency. "Then ... read more

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