Six die as severe cold persists across Europe

January 8th, 2009 - 10:24 pm ICT by IANS  

Berlin, Jan 8 (DPA) Europe remained in the grip of a cold spell Thursday, resulting in at least six deaths as well as heating shortages and travel delays.In Germany, a homeless woman froze to death in her tent near the town of Trier on the border to Luxembourg, police reported. The 58-year-old was sleeping under a blanket in temperatures of minus 16 degrees centigrade.

In Poland at least five people have died of cold and exhaustion in sub-zero temperatures since Wednesday, bringing the country’s weather-related death toll to 80 since November, the Polish Press Agency reported.

Germany’s coldest temperature, 34.6 below zero, was reported in the Bavarian Alps at 10 a.m. Thursday, according to the Meteomedia weather service.

Europe’s electricity supply is struggling to keep up with demand, at a time when natural gas deliveries to Europe are threatened by the row between Russia’s state-owned Gazprom and the Ukraine, a transit country for Europe’s energy supply.

Gas shortages triggered by the Russia-Ukraine row over payments have left tens of thousands of families in Serbia and Bulgaria without the ability to heat their homes.

In the Serbian city of Novi Sad, 80,000 people have lost access to heating.

In Pancevo, the heart of Serbia’s petrochemical industry 15 km east of Belgrade, an institution caring for more than 200 elderly people was in a critical situation, the daily Blic said.

A rush for electric heaters was reported in Bulgaria, causing increased concern for the overburdened electric power grid.

Also cut off from the Russian-Ukraine gas supply in the Balkans were Romania, Greece, Turkey, Macedonia, Bosnia, and Croatia as well as Albania and the former Serbian province Kosovo which normally have supply problems in winter.

In France, the head of the state-owned energy supplier EDF, Pierre Gadonneix, was quoted Thursday as saying that France could be hit by power outages if the current cold snap worsens.

Transport across Europe has been affected by the cold weather conditions. Overnight temperatures of minus 17 degrees delayed commuter trains in Germany’s capital Berlin, while a lorry on the A14 motorway in Saxony skidded on the icy road surface, causing a 14-km traffic jam.

Thursday night a man had to be rescued when his car skidded onto a frozen pond and broke through the ice in the eastern German town of Schwerin. The driver, who had been consuming alcohol, left the car and fell through the ice as he tried to run away from the police.

In northern Italy, several stretches of motorway re-opened Thursday morning as weather conditions improved following almost 60 hours of incessant snowfalls.

Some 800 km of roads linking cities such as Milan, Genoa, Turin and Bologna, were again safe for motorists, authorities said.

In Turin, over 150 tonnes of salt had to be trucked in to help melt ice covering the north-western city’s streets.

In Britain, lakes thawed and fountains started to work again as Thursday brought a reprieve from the unusually cold weather of the past two weeks.

Wednesday had been the coldest night recorded in Britain for seven years. In the southern county of Dorset even the sea froze around a stretch of the Sandbanks peninsula, something that last happened in 1991, reports said Thursday.

In the Netherlands, professional ice-skaters competed Thursday in the first national ice-skating marathon on natural ice in 12 years. Several government ministries and multinationals gave employees the day off to go skating.

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