163 dead as cold snap grips Europe
WARSAW — A cold snap kept Europe in its icy grip Thursday, pushing the death toll to 163 as countries from Ukraine to Italy struggled with temperatures that plunged to record lows in some places.
Entire villages were cut off in parts of eastern Europe, trapping thousands, while road, air and rail links were severed and gas consumption shot up during what has been the severest winter in decades in some regions.
In Ukraine, tens of thousands headed to shelters to escape the freeze that emergencies services said has killed 63 people -- most of them frozen to death in the streets, some succumbing to the hypothermia later in hospitals.
Nine more people died in Poland as the mercury dropped to minus 32 Celsius (minus 25.6 Fahrenheit) in some parts, bringing the country's toll to 29 since the fearsome spell of cold weather started last week, police said.
Homeless people in the region are at highest risk, warned the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
"Although we expect harsh winters in this part of the world, this current freeze has come towards the end of a mild winter," said Zlatko Kovac, IFRC representative for Belarus and Ukraine.
"Homeless people have been caught unawares and unprepared. They don't follow long-range forecasts and are extremely vulnerable."
Red Cross Societies have helped with hot meals, warm clothing and blankets. The organisation said it had released more than 100,000 euros ($140,000) from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to boost the aid effort.
Russian gas giant Gazprom, meanwhile, said it had boosted deliveries to Europe, while several European countries reported drops in Russian supplies, with operators in Austria and Slovakia both reporting falls of 30 percent.
Ukraine -- the transit point for most Russian gas headed to Europe -- denied it was taking a greater than usual share of the gas.
Tens of thousands of people in Ukraine have sought help in more than 2,000 temporary shelters as temperatures fell to minus 33 degrees Celsius in the Carpathians and minus 27 in the capital Kiev.
"I am unemployed. I have somewhere to live but nothing to eat. I ate here and it was good -- bread with a slice of fat and an onion as well as porridge," said Olexander Shemnikov after visiting a shelter in Kiev.
In Romania, eight people died overnight, bringing the country's overall toll to 22, the health ministry said. Schools remained closed in some parts.
In Bulgaria, at least 10 people have died, according to media.
With parts of the Danube river freezing, authorities moved some vessels to ports further away to protect them from the advancing ice.
And in the capital Sofia, some residents found their money frozen as automated teller machines stopped functioning, according to local media.
In Latvia, 10 people have died around the capital Riga alone, with no figures available for the rest of the country. In neighbouring Lithuania a 55-year-old homeless man became the ninth victim of the deep chill.
In Estonia, organisers had to postpone a trio of cross-country skiing events after temperatures plunged to minus 30. Many Friday and weekend sports events have been cancelled elesewhere on the continent.
In north and central Italy, hundreds were trapped overnight on trains as freezing temperatures and heavy snowfalls caused widespread transport chaos.
The cold has so far killed an infant in Sicily and a 76-year-old in Parma during what forecasters say is the coldest weather in Italy in 27 years.
In France, 41 of the 101 regions were on alert for snow or "deep cold". In Paris, the army set aside nearly 600 places in military buildings to shelter the homeless from the cold.
Two people died in Austria, and seven perished in Serbia, where 11,500 others were trapped mostly in remote mountain villages inaccessible by road.
Five have died in the Czech Republic and two each in Slovakia and Greece.
In Belgrade, homeless people unable to secure one of the 140 spots in the capital's sole shelter took refuge in trolley buses and trams.
In neighbouring Bosnia, several remote hamlets in the east were cut off, forcing helicopter airdrops of food and supplies this week.
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