East Europe cold snap leaves 13 dead


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The Independent Online

Freezing temperatures and heavy snowfall killed at least 13 people in eastern Europe as Croatia endured its worst winter storm since 1955 and Romanians struggled to vote in parliamentary elections.

Seven people died in the Czech Republic at the weekend amid temperatures of as low as -20 Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit). Four people died in Croatia and two in Serbia as the Balkan region saw snowfall of as much as 110 centimeters (43 inches). Heavy snow in Romania hampered voters as Prime Minister Victor Ponta's ruling coalition won Sunday's general election.

"It was the combination of wind, snow and other factors that contributed to such a cold snap," Andrej Velkavrh, a meteorologist at the Slovenian environmental agency, said by phone. "The low temperatures are set to last until Friday, when we expect warmer air from the west."

Eastern Europe was hit by cold Siberian air and above- normal snowfall at the start of this year, triggering a surge in demand for natural gas across the region that Russia's OAO Gazprom struggled to meet. Moscow officials deployed 12,000 snow-removal vehicles and more than 7,000 people to keep roads open and sidewalks cleared last month amid the Russian capital's biggest November snowstorm in more than half a century.

Dozens of trucks carrying goods to Europe were stranded on Bulgaria's border with Serbia as snow blocks roads in the neighboring Balkan country, Bulgaria's Interior Ministry said Monday on its website.

Serbia banned truck traffic during future snowfall "to avoid unforeseen traffic jams and similar consequences," the Transport Ministry said on its website. A tow truck skidded off a road at the weekend, blocking the main highway between the capital, Belgrade, and the Hungarian border in the north and leaving people in their cars overnight in a 10-kilometer line.

Above-average snowfall cut electricity supplies across Romania, leaving about 90 towns without power amid falling temperatures, the Bucharest-based Economy Ministry said Monday in an emailed statement.

In Slovenia, the state-owned agency that operates the country's highways and the police blamed each other for the chaos on one of the country's highways after trucks slid and blocked roads, leaving dozens of drivers stranded without food and water.

Lietuvos Draudimas AB, Lithuania's largest property and casualty insurer and part of RSA Insurance Group, said today that car accidents and related damage was about 25 percent higher than usual because of the weather conditions. Insurers registered 345 accidents by 11 a.m. in Vilnius, with damage averaging 2,500 litai ($934), it said in an e-mailed statement.

Montenegro reported 19 car accidents with nine people hurt as heavy snow and strong winds battered the smallest of the former Yugoslav nations, according to the automobile club's website. Two trucks plunged off a road in nearby Macedonia with no injuries reported, according to the Skopje-based Utrinski Vesnik newspaper.