January 27, 2006

European cold snap a killer for poor and homeless

By Kremena Miteva

SOFIA (Reuters) - A tiny baby was one of the latest victims
of a European winter cold snap which has killed more than 100
people and caused chaos from Moscow to Milan.

Bulgarian police would not release the name of the
six-month old girl from the central town of Stara Zagora, but
said her parents told them she died because heat cost too much.

"It's very sad. Her family was very poor and couldn't
afford to heat their house," police spokeswoman Ionka Georgieva
told Reuters on Friday.

The cold weather has knocked temperatures to as low as
minus 30 degrees Celsius (minus 22 Fahrenheit) in parts of
Europe, disrupted transport, highlighted the region's gas
supply problems, frozen parts of the Black Sea and wrapped a
blanket of snow across the Alps.

Many of Bulgaria's 7.8 million people try to keep their
costs down by heating only one room in the house during a
bitter Balkan winter. Hundreds of thousands cannot afford any

Romania's health ministry said 55 of its nationals between
the ages of 29 and 86 years old have died from cold-related
heart attacks, hypothermia, breathing problems and excessive
alcohol consumption.

At least 18 of the dead were homeless people, the ministry
said in a statement. More than 300 Romanian schools were closed
because of the low temperature, media said.

At least 140 people have died in Moscow alone since
October, Interfax news agency reported.

Much of Europe and parts of the former Soviet Union battled
energy shortages as Russia failed to pump enough gas to meet a
demand boosted by the unusually cold weather.

Russia supplies a quarter of the region's gas needs and,
until this year, had been a dependable supplier.

But a pricing dispute with Ukraine, transit route for 80
percent of Russia's gas exports, hit supplies to industry and
households across the continent.

Worst off was the ex-Soviet state of Georgia, where mystery
explosions on gas export pipelines in southern Russia have cut
supplies. Many people on Friday could not cook a hot meal or
heat their homes.

Schools and factories closed, while high winds downed a
power line serving the east, forcing people to hunt for fuel.

"I've spent several hours in a queue for kerosene and wood
this morning. But I'm happy I've finally got it," said Maya
Khubuluri, a 49-year-old resident of the capital Tbilisi.


Transport was also a problem in the cold.

Ship movements in Romania's Black Sea ports, including the
largest one in Constanta, have been restricted over the past
days due to severe weather conditions.

Television footage showed the Black Sea was frozen for
about 1,000 metres (yards) from the shore, a phenomenon that
experts say happens once every 20 years.

Canals and rivers in Germany and a number of neighbouring
countries froze, disrupting transport of grain and other cargo.

Northern Italy was blanketed by unusually thick snow on
Friday as it faced a second day of heavy snow falls from the
port town of Genoa to Milan, causing havoc on roads and
grounding most flights as airports struggled with icy runways.

Motorway authorities said roads around Genoa were open only
to cars with snow chains and barred goods lorries carrying
heavy loads from roads leading to Switzerland.

In Milan, Italy's financial hub, trams and trains suffered
heavy delays and morning commuters trudged through thick snow,
while workers shoveled it off the roof of the city's cathedral.

A terrorism trial due to be held in the city was canceled
after one of the accused was snowed in.

In Turin, where the sounds of building work envelope the
last-minute dash to finish preparations for the February 10-26
Winter Olympics, organizers were cheering the snow's arrival
after an unusually dry winter on the Alpine slopes.

Winter sports industry professionals said the falling snow
has greatly improved conditions for skiers, snowboarders, the
resorts in the Alps and the upcoming Games.

"In Italy the conditions have greatly improved with the new
snowfall," said Al Morgan, information manager at the Ski Club
of Great Britain.

"Things have really improved for the Olympic resorts."

Most scientists say global warming will make weather more
extreme, ranging from floods to heatwaves. But they say that
specific events like Hurricane Katrina in the United States
last year or the current freeze cannot be blamed on a changing

(Additional reporting by Michael Winfrey in Sofia, Guy
Faulcon in Moscow, Francois Murphy in Vienna, Clara
Ferreirra-Marques in Milan)