KIEV, Feb 6 – The deadly cold snap that has gripped Europe for more than a week wrought more havoc across the continent Sunday, straining emergency services, grounding flights and pushing the death toll past 300.
The homeless population has borne the brunt of the suffering, with dozens of transients freezing to death in unheated apartments, fire escapes or in makeshift street shelters.
French authorities on Sunday found the body of a homeless man who had frozen to death, bringing to at least 306 the number of cold-related deaths reported across Europe.
With night-time temperatures plunging as low as minus 40 Celsius (minus 40 Fahrenheit) in Finland, the grim winter toll also rose in other countries.
Italy, Poland and Ukraine all recorded more deaths.
Ukraine announced another nine deaths, bring their total to 131 — most of them homeless people who perished on the streets since the freeze started nine days ago, Ukraine’s emergencies ministry said.
Some 1,800 people had been hospitalised, and 75,000 people had sought warmth and food in over 3,000 shelters across Ukraine.
The bitter cold front has engulfed much of Europe and even crossed the Mediterranean into north Africa, where as many as 16 people were killed on Algeria’s snow-slicked roads or in other weather-related accidents.
In Rome, traffic was virtually paralysed by black ice as snow covered the city.
As residents resorted to sawing through fallen trees blocking the roads, many people said they had had no assistance from the authorities.
“It’s awful. I had to walk two hours through freezing temperatures just to get to the metro,” Rome resident Federico Maneski said. “The area is full of trees that have fallen on cars but no one’s come to help us.”
The Italian death toll reached 17 when three homeless people were found dead, while two men suffered heart attacks as they shovelled snow in the Abruzzo region and Campania regions.
London’s Heathrow Airport, the world’s busiest passenger air hub, cancelled half of Sunday’s 1,300 flights after it was blanketed in six centimetres (2.4 inches) of snow. Heavy snow falls in other parts of Britain left motorway drivers stranded overnight.
The cold claimed eight new victims in Poland, bringing that country’s toll to 53, and in Serbia, which has recorded nine deaths, authorities declared states of emergency in 32 municipalities, mostly in the south and southwest.
Almost 70,000 people remained cut off in snowed-in Serbian villages, with police and military units providing basic necessities, said Predrag Maric, the police official in charge of Serbia’s emergency services.
In Romania, six new deaths brought the toll there to 34.
But there was better news in Croatia, where a woman gave birth to a girl with the help of two neighbours after emergency services were unable to reach her as she went into labour in a village cut off by a blizzard.
She named her daughter Snjezana — “Snow-White” in Croatian.
Overnight temperatures in Finland plummeted to minus 40 degrees Celsius (minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit), but that did not deter many Helsinki voters from turning out to vote in a presidential election.
Motorists were warned of more arctic winds and slick roads and poor visibility because of powdery snow.
Similar conditions led to pile-ups Friday near Helsinki, in which more than 200 cars were involved, and about 40 people taken to hospital.
The cold spell is forecast to last until at least the middle of the week.