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Europe still shivering in snow

A baby was one of the latest victims of a European winter cold snap which has killed more than 100 people and caused chaos from Moscow to Milan.
/ Source: Reuters

A baby was one of the latest victims of a European winter cold snap which has killed more than 100 people and caused chaos from Moscow to Milan.

Bulgarian police would not release the name of the six-month old girl from the central town of Stara Zagora, but said her parents told them she died because heat cost too much.

“It’s very sad. Her family was very poor and couldn’t afford to heat their house,” police spokeswoman Ionka Georgieva told Reuters on Friday.

The cold weather has knocked temperatures to as low as -22 Fahrenheit in parts of Europe, disrupted transport, highlighted the region’s gas supply problems, frozen parts of the Black Sea and wrapped a blanket of snow across the Alps.

Many of Bulgaria’s 7.8 million people try to keep their costs down by heating only one room in the house during a bitter Balkan winter. Hundreds of thousands cannot afford any heating.

Romania’s health ministry said 55 of its nationals between the ages of 29 and 86 years old have died from cold-related heart attacks, hypothermia, breathing problems and excessive alcohol consumption.

At least 18 of the dead were homeless people, the ministry said in a statement. More than 300 Romanian schools were closed because of the low temperature, media said.

At least 140 people have died in Moscow alone since October, Interfax news agency reported.

Much of Europe and parts of the former Soviet Union battled energy shortages as Russia failed to pump enough gas to meet a demand boosted by the unusually cold weather.

Russia supplies a quarter of the region’s gas needs and, until this year, had been a dependable supplier.

But a pricing dispute with Ukraine, transit route for 80 percent of Russia’s gas exports, hit supplies to industry and households across the continent.

Worst off was the ex-Soviet state of Georgia, where mystery explosions on gas export pipelines in southern Russia have cut supplies. Many people on Friday could not cook a hot meal or heat their homes.

Schools and factories closed, while high winds downed a power line serving the east, forcing people to hunt for fuel.

“I’ve spent several hours in a queue for kerosene and wood this morning. But I’m happy I’ve finally got it,” said Maya Khubuluri, a 49-year-old resident of the capital Tbilisi.

Transport was also a problem in the cold.

Ship movements in Romania’s Black Sea ports, including the largest one in Constanta, have been restricted over the past days due to severe weather conditions.

Television footage showed the Black Sea was frozen for about 1,000 yards from the shore, a phenomenon that experts say happens once every 20 years.

Canals and rivers in Germany and a number of neighboring countries froze, disrupting transport of grain and other cargo.

Northern Italy was blanketed by unusually thick snow on Friday as it faced a second day of heavy snow falls from the port town of Genoa to Milan, causing havoc on roads and grounding most flights as airports struggled with icy runways.

The snow forced Milan’s Linate and Malpensa airports to close until Saturday, adding to the woes of carrier Alitalia, which has already suffered strikes. Bergamo Orio al Serio airport nearby was also closed.

Motorway authorities said roads around Genoa were open only to cars with snow chains and barred goods lorries carrying heavy loads from roads leading to Switzerland.

In Milan, Italy’s financial hub, trams and trains suffered heavy delays and morning commuters trudged through thick snow, while workers shoveled it off the roof of the city’s cathedral.

A terrorism trial due to be held in the city was cancelled after one of the accused was snowed in.