January 25, 2006

Cold claims more lives in Europe

By Karolos Grohmann

ATHENS (Reuters) - Freezing weather has killed scores of
people in eastern Europe and snowstorms forced the closure of
the Acropolis in Athens and blanketed parts of Sicily and
Turkey on Wednesday as the Arctic air pushed south.

Ukraine said 66 people had died there since the freeze set
in last week. Neighboring Russia has asked it to restrict gas
usage as demand has rocketed during the coldest winter in a
generation in the region.

The Romanian Health Ministry said extremely low
temperatures in the country had caused 27 deaths in the past
three days.

In a statement it said the victims, ranging in age between
33 and 86, died of heart attacks and hypothermia caused by
temperatures of about minus 20 Celsius (minus 4 Fahrenheit).
Seven of them were homeless.

Ten people froze to death or died of burns while trying to
keep warm in the Czech Republic in recent days after
temperatures fell below minus 30 C (minus 22 F), media said.

Police said another 14 people have died of exposure in
Poland over the past 24 hours.

The bitter cold has spread to the far south of Europe,
regions which normally enjoy milder winters.

In Greece, more than 400 villages and towns were cut off
after 36 hours of continuous snowfall and hundreds of
snow-clearing vehicles struggled to keep main routes open.

Ports across the country stayed shut as icy gale-force
winds swept across the Aegean, casting a carpet of snow over
the islands.

A Cambodia-flagged cargo ship sank in the northern Aegean
amid a snowstorm on Tuesday, the Merchant Marine Ministry said.
All but two of the 16 mainly Turkish crew were rescued by the
coastguard and rescuers were search for the missing.

Athenians also enjoyed the rare sight of the Acropolis
under a covering of snow. One of the world's most visited
monuments, its marble temples were closed to the public for a
second day.

In Turkey, Education Minister Huseyin Celik said the
country's schools, due to resume classes after a mid-year break
next week, would remain closed until February 6 because of the
freezing weather.

Much of Turkey, including Ankara and Istanbul, was covered
in snow while shipping was halted on the Bosphorus because of
hazardous conditions.

Bulgarian officials said the country's two main ports of
Varna and Bourgas on the Black Sea had been closed because of
high winds and heavy seas.

Bulgarian media reported that three people had died of
exposure since the cold spell began on Tuesday, with
temperatures falling to between minus 10 C and minus 20 C (14 F
and minus 4 F).

Italy was also suffering from the cold snap, with the
thermometer falling to minus 35 C (minus 31 F) in mountains in
the northeast. At the other end of the country, heavy snow
swept parts of the Mediterranean island of Sicily early on

Newspapers reported that two people died of exposure near
Imola in the north of the country, while cities around Italy
opened metro stations and railway waiting rooms overnight to
provide shelter for the homeless.

The harsh winter has led to a surge in demand for gas as
Italians try to keep their homes warm, forcing the government
to introduce emergency measures to preserve dwindling gas

The famous canals in the Dutch city of Amsterdam froze
briefly and television news showed footage of commuters on
bicycles skidding on black ice, which also caused hundreds of
car accidents, ANP news agency reported.

(Additional reporting by Olena Horodetska in Kiev, Tom
Miles in Moscow, Jan Lopatka in Prague, Radu Marinas in
Bucharest, Emma Ross-Thomas in Istanbul, Michael Winfrey in
Sofia, Tomasz Janowski in Warsaw, Crispian Balmer in Rome and
Emma Thomasson in Amsterdam)