Romania rescues children as Europe’s freeze deepens

BUCHAREST, Feb 4 — Nine Romanian children were taken into care after a baby died in an unheated house, joining at least 189 others killed by a Siberian front that strengthened its hold over eastern Europe yesterday and spread further west.

Temperatures plummeted to minus 37 Celsius in northern Slovakia and rescue workers dug through snow on mountain roads to rescue stranded bus passengers in the Balkans.

In Romania, 80 per cent of the Danube River was frozen over, stopping ships sailing to the Black Sea, but the biggest concern was for children in the European Union’s second-poorest country.

Child protection officers in the city of Iasi took three girls into care after a four-month-old baby died in an unheated house where temperatures dipped as low as minus 20C.

“These children were already suffering from malnutrition,” a spokesman told Reuters.  “When the cold hit, their situation went from bad to worse to catastrophic.”

A train snow-bound in East Railway Station in Bucharest, Hungary, February 3, 2012. — Reuters picA train snow-bound in East Railway Station in Bucharest, Hungary, February 3, 2012. — Reuters picAs many as 15,000 children in Iasi might be at risk from the cold and a further six children had been taken into care, the spokesman said. The cold snap has so far killed 24 people in Romania and 11 in neighbouring Bulgaria.

The European Union said the supply of Russian gas fell further to some eastern European states as well as Italy, Greece and Austria, but said it was not yet facing an emergency. All EU states have obtained extra gas from other sources.

In Ukraine, 101 people have now died — a further 38 in the past 24 hours — and supermarkets are short of food as trucks struggle to make deliveries. Eight more have died in Poland since Thursday.

Clare Nullis, spokeswoman for the UN’s World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), told reporters that Europe’s unseasonably warm December and January meant this would not be a record-breaking winter.

Balkans badly hit

However, those words were little comfort to many in the Balkans, where fresh snow overnight added to the crisis.

The Serbian government has so far declared a state of emergency in 19 municipalities in the south and east, where six people have died from cold.

Six other people died in Bosnia from the cold, including four who died on the streets of the capital Sarajevo.

In the southern region of Svrljig, firefighters worked for hours to evacuate passengers from a bus stranded on a mountain road, while a second bus was trapped by an avalanche in the eastern Bosnian village of Krupac. No casualties were reported.

“The situation has worsened,” said Predrag Maric, head of the Serbian Interior Ministry’s Department for Emergencies.

A funeral procession near the border with Macedonia was stuck for four hours and had to transfer the coffin to a 4x4 jeep. In the northern town of Ecka, workers in a local fishery had to use pneumatic drills to break ice and get to the fish.

“I have not seen anything like this for more than two decades,” said fisherman Nikola Kircic.

Local hunters were using tractors to take food to animals in the mountains of southwestern Satornja.

“Roe deer and other small game are on the verge of starvation as the grass is under heavy snow,” said local hunter Momir Nikolic.

Albania registered its first casualty, a 63-year-old man believed to have died from the cold on his way home in the northern region of Bulqize.

German weather service DWD said it expected extreme cold to continue in central and eastern Europe for the next four days, but that temperatures would rise back above freezing point in most parts of France and Britain.

Skating on thin ice

As the Siberian front moved west, Dutch ice breakers cleared access to Rotterdam, Europe’s biggest port.

But organisers of the Elfstedentocht — a 200km speed skating race across the country’s waterways — were praying for thicker ice in the hope they could stage the competition for the first time since 1997. Dozens of over-enthusiastic skaters fell through the ice as they tested conditions.

Other sporting fixtures across the continent have been cancelled.

Croatia’s Adriatic coast and many of its islands were blanketed in snow — rare so far south — covering palm trees in the port of Split and bringing some residents out on skis.

The island of Solta, just off Split, had 30cm of snow.

Across the Adriatic in Italy, the heaviest snowfall in the capital Rome since the 1980s closed tourist attractions including the Colosseum and the Forum.

An 82-year-old man became the first casualty in France after dying of hypothermia yesterday. The man had left his house in eastern France with just his pyjamas to protect him, when temperatures fell to minus 14C.

Lorry traffic across the south of the country was suspended.

In the Baltic states, no strangers to cold weather, parts of eastern Latvia and Lithuania had record lows of minus 30C, and lender Swedbank warned some cash machines would break down.

The Czech Republic’s capital Prague shut a major section of the city’s ring road after a burst pipe sprayed water across the highway, creating a 400-metre-long sheet of ice.

An emergency services spokesman there said one man had apparently used the cold to commit suicide. “He drank a bottle of alcohol, took his clothes off and sat in a park.” — Reuters


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