Winter Cold Snap Kills 36 in Eastern Europe

By JOVANA GEC | January 31, 2012

Heavy snow and a severe cold snap have killed at least 36 people across eastern Europe and many areas were under emergency measures Monday as schools closed down, roads became impassible and power supplies were cut off.

As temperatures dropped to around minus 20 Celsius (minus 4 Fahrenheit), authorities opened hundreds of emergency shelters across the region and urged people to be careful and stay indoors. Police went searching for homeless people to make sure they didn’t freeze to death.

Ukraine’s Emergency Situations Ministry said 18 people died of hypothermia and nearly 500 people sought medical help for frostbites and hypothermia in just three days last week. Twelve of the dead were homeless people whose bodies were discovered on the streets.

Temperatures in parts of Ukraine plunged to minus 16 C (3 F) during the day and minus 23 C (minus 10 F) during the night. Authorities opened 1,500 shelters to provide food and heat and shut down schools and nurseries.

At least 10 people froze to death in Poland as the cold reached minus 26 C (minus 15 F) on Monday.

Malgorzata Wozniak, a spokeswoman for Poland’s Interior Ministry, told The Associated Press that elderly people and the homeless were among the dead and police were checking unheated empty buildings to corral the homeless into shelters.

Until now, Poland had been having a mild winter with little snow and temperatures just below freezing.

In central Serbia, three people died and two more were missing and 14 municipalities were operating under emergency decrees. Efforts to clear roads of snow were hampered by strong winds and dozens of towns faced power outages.

Police said one woman froze to death in a snowstorm in a central Serbian village, while two elderly men were found dead, one in the snow outside his home. Further south, emergency crews are searching for two men in their 70s who are feared dead.

In Romania, local media reported four people had died due to the frigid weather. Hungry dogs and puppies near the Romanian capital of Bucharest got a helping hand after a dozen prison inmates shoveled snow Monday to unblock paths to a stray dog shelter housing 300 dogs.

The strays had been frozen in after snowstorms and icy weather swept Romania. Bucharest is home to some 50,000 stray dogs.

In neighboring Bulgaria, a 57-year-old man froze to death in a northwestern village and emergency decrees were declared in 25 of the country’s 28 districts. In the capital of Sofia, authorities handed out hot tea and placed homeless people in emergency shelters.

Strong winds also closed down Bulgaria’s main Black Sea port of Varna.

In the Czech capital of Prague, city authorities worked to set up tents for an estimated 3,000 homeless people. Freezing temperatures also damaged train tracks, slowing railway traffic.

(Associated Press writers Veselin Toshkov in Sofia, Bulgaria, Karel Janicek in Prague, Czech Republic, Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Maria Danilova in Kiev and Alison Mutler in Bucharest contributed.)

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