Thirty degrees below – and at least a hundred dead: Europe's big freeze


Shaun Walker
Friday 03 February 2012 01:00 GMT

With record snowfalls, icy winds, and thousands of people trapped in remote villages, much of Central and Eastern Europe is in the grip of a cold snap that has caused more than 100 deaths. Temperatures in parts of Ukraine and other Eastern European countries are hovering around -30C (-22F).

The Adriatic islands of Croatia have had a rare dusting of snow, while in Romania, parts of the Black Sea have frozen over. Several towns in Bulgaria have recorded their lowest temperatures since records began more than a century ago,

At least 11,000 people were trapped in mountain villages in Serbia yesterday as ice and snow made roads impassable. Emergency crews were working to gain access to deliver supplies as the country tackled its coldest winter for decades.

"The situation is dramatic. The snow is up to 5m high in some areas. You can only see rooftops," said Milorad Dramacanin, a member of a helicopter evacuation team. Among those airlifted to safety were mourners who had travelled to a funeral but were unable to get back.

In neighbouring Bosnia, supplies were flown to isolated villages, where locals were forced to dig paths into thick snow that resembled tunnels, and said they had little hope of proper access to the outside world until spring. Some villages have been without electricity for days.

The worst-hit country is Ukraine, where dozens of homeless people have died. Authorities said yesterday that 63 people had died in the past few days, with 41 dying on the streets, eight in hospitals and 14 at home. Nearly 1,000 have been hospitalised with hypothermia or frostbite because the temperature has consistently remained below -20C and on some nights has dipped below -30C. Shelters for the homeless across are handing out tea, coffee and pork fat, while hospitals have been told not to discharge homeless patients.

There have also been deaths in Poland, Bulgaria and Romania. In Poland, the victims have also mainly been homeless people, primarily those who fell asleep in unheated buildings. A further 11 people have died since Friday from carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the Polish fire service. The victims had been using makeshift charcoal heaters in an attempt to warm up.

In many parts of Russia, extreme winter temperatures are normal, and life in cities is continuing more or less as usual, albeit with rather more grumbling. In St Petersburg, where temperatures have dipped below -30C this week days, experts have advised residents to change their diet to keep healthy. "You must not eat fresh vegetables in winter, especially during the peak cold periods," said Pavel Gorbenko, a professor of nutrition. He suggested that Russians should increase their intake of fermented cabbage, as well as use heavy fats such as lard, rather than cooking with light oils. "In winter in -20C, a person cannot survive on sunflower oil, he will either get ill or will slowly fade away," Mr Gorbenko said.

In Siberia, temperatures were even lower, with some regions dipping as low as -50C. In the city of Barnaul, all long-distance buses were cancelled; the drivers said if they broke down en route it would mean certain death for all the passengers.

* -11C and snow's on the way for UK

* Snow in the UK: Independent readers' pictures

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