Deadly Cold, Heavy Snow Grip Europe

Worth A Look, Climate, Frontier Centre

PARIS • Seven people froze to death in Poland on the coldest night of the winter so far and heavy snow forced normally sunny Marseille to close its international airport as Arctic weather gripped much of Europe yesterday.

The usually sunny Mediterranean port city of Marseille ground to a halt as snow stopped traffic yesterday.

Polish police said the latest victims included a 68-yearold homeless man found in an abandoned house and a 51year-old man who lived alone and died a few steps away from his home.

Temperatures in Poland dropped as low as -25C. According to Interior Ministry data, hypothermia has been blamed for 76 deaths in the country since November, 2008.

Port authorities in the Dutch city of Rotterdam deployed an icebreaking ship for the first time 12 years, while British forecasters issued a new severe weather warning.

The fountains in London’s Trafalgar Square were full of ice, and water froze along a one-kilometre stretch of shore at Poole, southern England.

In the Balkans, thousands shivered in their homes after gas supplies to southeastern Europe were cut as a result of a contract dispute between Russia and Ukraine, reminding many of the freezing winters they endured in the wars of the 1990s.

“It all reminds me of the war when we were freezing, except there is no shooting,” said Hilmo Celjo, who was lining up near the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, to buy wood and coal.

Bulgarians were also cold and angry, reviving memories of the communist-era power shortages. The country relies on Russian gas for almost all its heating.

“The radiators are barely warm at all, there’s no hot water. I’m having to warm up water in a pan to bathe the baby,” said Martina Tocheva as she pushed a stroller through a snow-covered park in the Bulgarian capital Sofia.

“We are living in the 21st century, aren’t we?”

Other residents were putting on a brave face.

“Let’s look on the bright side: Heating and electricity rationing will bring families into the same room and unite them around the single candle. We might even see a rise in the birthrate,” joked one blogger.

Temperatures sank to record lows in parts of Germany overnight. A weather station near Dresden in the eastern state of Saxony said the coldest spot was -27.7C.

Thick snow has covered much of the country and icebreakers were at work on several waterways, including the River Elbe in eastern Germany.

“I’m wearing all my warmest clothes, I’ve got two pairs of socks on. Otherwise drinking hot cocoa helps. We’ve just been sitting in McDonald’s,” said Florian Densing, who lives in Cologne.

In France, temperatures dropped as low as -16C yesterday in the Ardennes region northeast of Paris, while 40 centimetres of snow fell in the Marseille region in just a few hours.

Authorities blocked access to nearby expresssways and 1,000 motorists were stuck in their cars awaiting rescue services.

Marseille’s main St. Charles train station was paralysed as signalling froze. School buses were cancelled in the entire Bouches du Rhône area, where Marseille is located.

Heavy snow has forced the closing of the mountainous French-Italian border since Tuesday night.

In Albania, remote areas were blocked by heavy snow and isolated villages were being supplied with food by helicopters.

A religious ceremony in which believers plunge into an icy river to retrieve a holy cross was cancelled because of the cold. A hunter killed two wolves that had ventured near the northern Albanian town of Kukes.

The cold weather has also allowed the Dutch to participate in a national skating marathon for the first time since 1996 on the Oostervaardseplassen tidal area, near Amsterdam, but penguins in a zoo were moved indoors.

Officials at Burger’s Zoo in Arnhem said the blackfoot penguins come from South Africa and are not used to such low temperatures.