* Cold snap hits Balkans, Poland and Slovakia
* Thousands of motorists stuck overnight in Hungary
* Some 12,000 in temporary shelters waiting for weather to
* At least two people killed by flooding and high winds
(Adds comments by PM Orban, fresh details)
By Krisztina Than
BUDAPEST, March 15 Hungary deployed tanks to
reach thousands of motorists trapped in heavy snow on Friday in
a sudden cold snap and high winds which also struck parts of the
Balkans, Slovakia and Poland and have left at least four people
Snow stranded people in cars, buses and trains through the
night and conspired with strong winds to cut off dozens of towns
and villages in Hungary. The situation was critical on the M1
motorway linking Budapest and Vienna where hundreds of cars and
trucks got stranded in the snow, most of them for over 20 hours.
By 1730 GMT disaster units had rescued most people stranded
in the snow, putting up 12,000 in temporary shelters until the
weather improved, Prime Minister Viktor Orban told a news
He said 155 people were still out on the roads waiting for
help, including one transplant patient in an ambulance whose
life was in danger.
"The situation is particularly difficult and serious on the
M1 motorway near the town of Babolna where there is a wall of
snow, spanning 12 km (7 miles) with some gaps, and due to the
strong winds even the deployment of helicopters is difficult,"
Orban said on his return from an EU meeting in Brussels.
A Reuters photographer travelling with a rescue convoy said
high winds had caused snowdrifts on the motorway up to a metre
(3 feet) high, with some cars totally buried.
Two people were killed in an accident on another Hungarian
motorway on Thursday when dozens of cars collided. Tens of
thousands of people were without power in the northeast of the
Government spokesman Andras Giro-Szasz got stranded in snow
on a road overnight until a rescuer pulled his car out at 4.a.m,
he told local Inforadio.
Many people took to Facebook to appeal for help.
The government said it had sent out tanks and other military
vehicles with caterpillar tracks to reach otherwise inaccessible
areas and to pull vehicles out of snow drifts.
The weekend's premier league and second tier football
fixtures were cancelled, with night-time temperatures expected
to hit -5 to -15 degrees Celsius (23 to 5 Fahrenheit).
After a relatively mild winter for much of the region,
almost 200,000 people in Hungary, Bulgaria and Slovakia were
left shivering without electricity on Friday. Heavy rain hit
parts of Serbia and Bosnia.
In Bulgaria, one woman was killed when scaffolding collapsed
in high winds in the central town of Gabrovo, and a school was
evacuated in the southern town of Krichim when wind tore off the
To the south, in Kosovo, a 10-year-old girl drowned when a
river burst its banks in heavy rain in the northern town of
Skenderaj. Dozens of homes were flooded in the west of the
country, a Reuters reporter said.
"The situation is alarming," Klina municipality spokeswoman
Samije Gjergjaj told Reuters. She said some 300 people were
stranded by 3-metre high floodwater.
"There's just one small boat evacuating these people," said
Gjergjaj. "We're waiting for the state emergency services to
Heavy snow also paralysed parts of southeastern Poland,
where police banned heavy lorries from entering the city of
Rzeszow for fear they would get stuck.
In eastern Slovakia, snow stranded about 40 lorries on a
highway in the High Tatras region. The army deployed hundreds of
soldiers to help out and authorities appealed to people to avoid
venturing out by car.
(Additional reporting by Fatos Bytyci in Pristina, Chris
Borowski in Warsaw, Sam Cage in Sofia, Martin Santa in
Bratislava, Daria Sito-Sucic and Maja Zuvela in Sarajevo;
Writing by Matt Robinson in Belgrade; Editing by Pravin Char)