KIEV/LONDON (Reuters) - Bitterly cold weather sweeping across Europe claimed more victims Sunday, brought widespread disruption to transport services, and left thousands without power with warnings that low temperatures would continue into next week.
Hundreds have lost their lives in eastern Europe as freezing weather sweeps across the continent westwards, while major airports warned that services would be delayed or cancelled.
Steven Keates, a weather forecaster at Britain’s Met Office, said the severe wintry conditions were expected to last, and spread to other areas.
“It will still be very cold, maybe not quite the exceptional temperatures we’ve seen this last week, but still very cold,” he told Reuters.
“(It will be) perhaps turning increasingly unsettled across southern and eastern Europe, so that will probably bring a risk of snow for Italy across to Greece and up round the Balkan countries.”
A state of emergency was declared in Bosnia after the cold snap claimed its seventh victim, and avalanches and strong winds cut off hundreds of villages in eastern parts.
Helicopters were needed to deliver aid packages to mountainous areas and take the sick to hospital.
Greece also declared an emergency situation in the western Peloponnese peninsula after heavy rain caused flooding and an 82-year old woman drowned while trying to escape her house.
Nine more deaths from freezing temperatures were registered in Ukraine overnight, emergency services said, taking the death toll to 131 from a nine-day cold spell, the most severe in the country for six years with night temperatures down as low as minus 33 Celsius (minus 27 Fahrenheit) in parts.
Many of the dead were homeless people with bodies being found in the streets under snow, in rivers and in doorways. More than 3,000 heated tents have been set up around the country to provide makeshift accommodation for the homeless.
In Poland, Prime Minister Donald Tusk asked local authorities to waive the ban on admitting inebriated individuals to homeless shelters as eight more people died taking the death toll to 53, PAP news agency reported.
The extreme cold also caused the death of at least three people in Hungary, national news agency MTI said, and at least five people froze to death in Lithuania over the weekend in Lithuania as the temperature fell below -30 Celsius overnight.
Transport networks were also badly hit as the chilling weather moved west, prompting severe weather warnings to be issued across much of France and Britain.
London’s Heathrow, Europe’s busiest airport, said it had cancelled about half of its normal services as more than 15cm (6 inches) of snow fell in parts of England overnight and temperatures dropped to almost -10 Celsius.
Many of Britain’s other airports were forced to shut runways overnight and warned of further disruption, while rail services were affected and motorways near London were brought to a standstill, forcing some divers to abandon their vehicles.
In Paris, the Eiffel Tower received a coating of snow and more downfalls were expected to bring problems to the French capital’s main airports.
The French death toll rose to five, after a 12-year old boy died of hypothermia after falling into a frozen pond in eastern France and two homeless people were found dead.
Meanwhile about 86,000 Italians were left without power because of trees falling on power lines, Livio Gallo, head of state power company Enel told SkyTG24 television.
The deaths of 13 people were blamed on the bad weather, Italian police said, including three men who died of heart attacks while shoveling snow.
Two highways in central Italy that cross the Apenines remained closed, the Interior Ministry said, while in Rome, schools and public offices are to remain closed until at least Tuesday, Mayor Gianni Alemanno said.
He urged people to get out and clean sidewalks, and said the city had handed out 2,350 free shovels.
While the cold snap has brought death and misery across Europe, some made the most of the conditions.
Snowboarders took to the streets of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo after it was blanketed by a record snowfall of 107 cm.
The traditional Sartai horse race on ice also went ahead in Lithuania and local media reported more than a dozen men and women from a health club went swimming in a lake near Vilnius.
Meanwhile in Belgium, police found that overnight temperatures of about -10 Celsius were so low that machines to test motorists’ alcohol levels did not work.
Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris,; Rob Strybel in Warsaw,; Aleksandar Vasovic and Matt Robinson in Belgrade, Sandor Peto in Budapest, Nerijus Adomaitis in Vilnius, Angeliki Koutantou in Athens, Daria Sito-Sucic in Sarajevo, Steve Scherer in Rome and Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels