Eight freeze to death in Europe

January 8, 2009 12:00 am

, WARSAW, Jan 8 – A cold wave claimed seven more lives in Poland and one casualty in Belgium as temperatures across Europe plunged below freezing overnight in what weather officials dubbed the coldest night of winter.

Polish police said the latest victims who froze to death on Tuesday included a 68-year-old homeless man found in an abandoned house in the southeast town of Jozefow, and a 51-year-old man who lived alone in central Eligiow and died a few steps away from his home.

Temperatures in Poland dropped as low as minus 25 degrees Celsius.

According to Interior Ministry data, hypothermia has been blamed for 76 deaths in Poland since November 2008.

A Belgian man, in his 30s, also froze to death overnight on Tuesday according to police as temperatures plunged to minus 20 degrees Celsius, the country’s coldest snap for 10 years.

He was found by school children and their teacher on Wednesday morning in Louven public park, roughly 20 kilometres from Brussels, police added.

Snowfalls disrupted air traffic around Europe shutting down airports in Italy for several hours and paralysing TGV high-speed trains in France.

Milan’s two airports Malpensa and Linate, as well as the airports in Turin and Bergamo, were closed all morning after snow reached up to 30 centimetres.

The French weather service called it "the coldest night of winter" so far with temperatures ranging for minus nine degrees Celsius in Paris – the coldest since 1997 – and minus 20 degrees Celsius in the northern Ardennes region.

The rare sight of snow was seen in the southern Mediterranean port of Marseille, closing the local airport and leaving some 12,000 households in the region without electricity.

Some 550 drivers were stranded for hours on highways outside the port city, emergency services said, as snow fell through the morning to form a coat 12 centimetres thick for the first time in 20 years.

Caught off guard, regional officials closed all highways to traffic, while Marseille city hall suspended bus and tram services and advised residents to stay at home. High-speed rail lines to and from Marseille were also cut.

Demand for power for heating throughout France has soared and raised the risk of power cuts, especially in Brittany and the southeast.

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

In Germany, where earlier this week a 77-year-old mentally ill woman froze to death, temperatures plummeted overnight with many areas recording record lows.

The coldest place was Dippoldiswalde-Reinberg near Dresden in the east where the mercury plunged to minus 27.7 degrees Celsius during the night.

"Temperatures like this suggest that in certain places in the region the lowpoint must have been under the minus 30 mark," the German weather office said in a statement.

On German railways, the cold froze up train doors and points, leading to delays of up to 45 minutes, while on the roads there were fewer accidents as drivers got more used to the treacherous conditions. At Frankfurt airport, continental Europe’s busiest hub, there were very few delays.

The freezing weather is expected to last through the week due to a stable mass of cold air coming from Scandanavia and Siberia, the French weather service said.


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