Severe Winter Weather Continues Its Hold on Europe

Posted February 4th, 2012 at 10:50 pm (UTC-5)
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Severe winter weather continues to dominate in many European countries with air and road travel disrupted and gas supplies running low.

The hardest-hit country is Ukraine, where temperatures as low as minus 32 degrees Celsius have left at least 122 people dead. Oleksandr Heits, head of a rescue unit in Kiev, said many of the victims are homeless citizens of Ukraine's capital.

“There are many homeless people coming here. It is minus 20 to minus 25 degrees Celsius outside. We're heating them up with tea. Some of them are staying for a night here. We're heating, feeding them and then they leave. Some citizens are bringing clothes and food for the homeless.”

Snow and extremely low temperatures have also gripped the Balkans, where many people are trapped in their homes or vehicles and six have been reported dead. The government of Bosnia-Herzegovina declared a state of emergency Saturday. In parts of coastal Croatia, where snow is very rare, army units were deployed to rescue trapped citizens.

Russia's gas export monopoly, Gazprom, says that it has been unable to satisfy gas shortages in at least eight European nations, ranging from Italy to Poland.

Further south, Rome, the Italian capital, is suffering from the heaviest snow fall in decades. Authorities have been forced to close several tourist sites, including the Colosseum and the Roman Forum.

Hundreds of people were rescued Saturday from a ferry that got stuck off Italy's Civitavecchia port, a frightening experience as described by some passengers.

“We were transferred from the ship to another, in the cold of the night, we were freezing, they made us get off the ship in conditions of a clear emergency, over planks, with the sea on our left, with the snow and the ice, without life jackets because there weren't any, not even in the cabins, among other things. I'm speechless.''

Authorities at London's Heathrow Airport, Europe's busiest, have announced a 30-percent decrease in flights as that city braces for as much as 15 centimeters of snow predicted to fall later on Saturday.

Electricity was cut off in many snow-bound places across Europe.

The Siberian cold front that has much of Europe in its grip is expected to ease next week.