Freezing temperatures and exceptional snowfall caused travel delays Wednesday across Europe and were blamed for at least 12 deaths, including that of a man in Milan who was crushed when a canopy collapsed under the weight of snow.
In Poland, the Interior Ministry said at least 10 people have frozen to death due to temperatures reaching minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit.
Italian police said a Milan businessman standing on his balcony was killed when the snow brought down a canopy and part of a wall. A 47-year-old Serbian was found frozen to death in his home in the town of Zagarolo, east of Rome.
The winter weather temporarily closed Milan's two airports, halted trains in the normally sunny south of France and pressed into service ice breakers in the Dutch port of Rotterdam. But it also sent Dutch skaters storming onto canals, and earned chimpanzees in Rome's zoo hot tea and cookies for extra calories.
Milan's Malpensa and Linate airports shut down briefly, then struggled to overcome a morning of delays and cancellations when the facilities reopened in the early afternoon. The city, Italy's financial capital, had to dig out from a foot of snow, and the airport authority said flight crews and other workers had been unable to reach the airports.
Snow blanketing much of northwestern Italy delayed trains up to three hours as the Italian railway had to slow track speeds. Schools closed in many cities.
Crisis along French coast
A rare snowfall in France's normally sunny Cote d'Azur sent the national railway into crisis mode, halting trains in Provence as well as the Alps. Authorities stopped all buses in the port city of Marseilles and closed surrounding highways, urging drivers to stay home. Several minor car accidents caused long traffic jams.
The operator of France's electricity grid and a unit of Electricite de France SA, called on customers in southern and western France to limit power consumption during peak evening hours amid expected record demand.
In Rome, keepers at the capital's zoo fed primates a special breakfast of warm barley porridge, croissants and cookies to make sure they had enough calories to keep up their body temperatures. At lunch, the animals sipped hot tea along with rice and yogurt.
The chimpanzees and orangutans also have been treated to modern floorboard heating and raised beds of hay and wood chips, the zoo said in a statement.
Germany had its coldest night of the winter, with a temperature of minus 18 Fahrenheit measured at one weather station in eastern Germany. At the Berlin Zoo, Knut the polar bear relished the bitter temperatures, scampering about his ice-encrusted closure as visitors watched.
Icebreaker used in Rotterdam
In the Netherlands, authorities at Rotterdam's port sent out an icebreaking ship Wednesday morning to ensure passage for barges using a vital artery to ply the country's inland waterways. It was the first time since 1996 that the port has used an icebreaker.
But the freezing temperatures warmed the hearts of Dutch skaters, with sports stores reporting a run on skates and skaters flocking to the country's famed canals. Serious speed skaters were hoping the cold spell would continue long enough for the country to stage its 11 cities tour, a 125-mile race over frozen canals and rivers in the country's northern province of Friesland.
The race was last run in early 1997 and has only been staged 15 times since the first official event in 1909.
Despite the freeze, the group that organizes the event played down hopes of a 2009 race, saying in a statement on its Web site that two more weeks of severe, around-the-clock frost and 6 inches of ice were needed.