European freeze claims lives

With temperatures plummeting to as low as -25°C in eastern Europe, as many as 13 people have died in countries including Poland, Romania and Germany. Over in England, heating problems forced school closures.


AFP - Plunging temperatures sent shivers across Europe Tuesday, leading to the deaths of several people and a record number of calls to power companies in Britain because of heating problems.

As the Paris area dug out from a rare snowfall, the Eiffel Tower remained closed for a second morning, finally opening later in the day after hot air was used to clean off the powder from observation levels.

Air traffic also limped back to normal at the main international Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport north of the capital.

"It did not snow last night. The runways are clear and have been de-iced. Traffic is returning to normal," said a Roissy official.

Heavy snow on Monday had forced Air France to cancel 150 out of 400 scheduled flights from Roissy, with some 3,000 passengers put up at hotels nearby and another 2,000 forced to spend a chilly night in the airport terminal.

Scheduled flights were able to take off and land normally on Tuesday, but many faced delays with up to 1,500 passengers still trying to fly out, airport services and Air France reported.

Traffic at Paris' second airport Orly was operating normally.

Road traffic likewise returned to normal in northern France, despite the ice and snow that accumulated up to five centimetres (two inches) in some places.

Still, bad weather forced school cancellations in some regions and the national weather service predicted frigid temperatures would linger until Thursday.

In Poland, where overnight temperatures have plunged to minus 25 Celsius (minus 13 Fahrenheit) recently, 10 people froze to death over the past few days, authorities reported.

German police also said that a 77-year-old mentally ill woman had apparently frozen to death near the town of Weimar after being reported missing from her retirement home.

And the bitter chill killed two men and sent others to hospital in Romania on Sunday, where temperatures fell as low as minus 31 Celsius in the centre.

The cold also indirectly caused the death of a 30-year-old woman in Linconshire in northeast England, after her car was hit by a train after stalling at a rail crossing.

"Minus 10 - it's colder than the Antarctic," Britain's Evening Standard newspaper trumpeted in a headline on its Internet edition Tuesday, noting that temperatures in some parts of the country were colder than the fabled frozen continent.

Meanwhile, heating problems shuttered many British schools, while repair services received a record number of cold-related calls.

Further south, snow blanketed northern Italy, forcing Milan's airport to cancel or delay some flights. An icy wind buffeted the northeastern city of Trieste, sending temperatures plunging below zero.

But the cold weather also allowed Dutch to participate in a national skating marathon for the first time since 1996 on the Oostervaardseplassen fresh water tidal area, near Amsterdam.

In some cases, local authorities are taking special measures for the most vulnerable, with London offering a heating stipend for the first time in a decade and the French port city of Calais giving shelter to illegal immigrants.

The wintry weather coincided with reports of sharp falls in gas deliveries from Russia via Ukraine, as Kiev and Moscow remain locked in a payment dispute.

Some 13 European countries have reported sharp falls or a complete halt in Russian gas shipments. While experts say gas reserves will mitigate any immediate impact, the European Union has called the situation "completely unacceptable."

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