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Sub-zero temperatures strand thousands, kill more in Europe

By Dominika Maslikowski, Bori Babic and Clare Byrne –

WARSAW, Poland — Freezing temperatures left thousands of people stranded without power in the Balkans and elsewhere in Europe on Saturday, as the death toll from one of the coldest winters in years continued to rise.

Blizzards hit the Western Balkans, while heavy snowfalls and gale-force winds were expected to last until Monday. The storms deposited a fresh layer of snow and created tall drifts, further hampering access to many areas in the region. Several villages were without stable electricity supply, as wind and snow knocked down power lines.

In Montenegro, the government declared a state of emergency 24 hours into a blizzard that dumped another two meters of snow across the country and cut off access to northern regions. The death toll was expected to rise from three when rescuers reach isolated areas.

In Serbia, the authorities reported three new deaths, raising the overall death toll for the country to 19. An estimated 50,000 people remain isolated in remote villages. The energy situation has become critical, prompting the government to extend a two-day holiday next week to five days, keep schools closed and cut the power supply to non-essential factories.

In Croatia, an average of 50 centimeters of snow were expected to fall during the weekend, while powerful winds blowing from the sea forced local road authorities to close some sections of the Adriatic highway.

Many villages in mountainous regions in Bosnia have been cut off since the start of the cold spell, nearly two weeks ago.

Temperatures dropped to as low as -32 degrees Celsius in Poland’s southern Bieszczady Mountains, while eight people died in house fires, police said.

A further eight people died in Romania, the Health Ministry said, raising the overall death toll to 65. Tens of thousands of people remained isolated in the south, where the army, police and firefighters were trying to clear access routes and distribute food and water.

Heavy snowfall also hit many parts of Italy — especially its central and southern regions — where six recent deaths have been linked to the cold weather. Several remote villages in the central Marche and Umbria regions remained cut off as a result of unusually high snow levels.

In north-eastern Trieste, at least 10 people were injured when winds with speeds of more than 130 kilometers per hour lashed the Adriatic port city.

The poor weather forced the cancellation of flights and Serie A football matches. In Paris, a major Six Nations rugby game between France and Ireland was cancelled after the referee declared the pitch at Stade de France stadium was frozen.

In Northern Bulgaria, trains could not make their way through the deep snow, which the wind has blown on the railways, state radio reported.

The Bulgarian section of the Danube was completely frozen Saturday, the national Agency for Maintenance of the Danube River said. The Bulgarian Maritime Administration has banned all navigation in the Bulgaria section, including ferries to Romania.

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