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Minus 26.5 degrees: Thousands stranded in Europe by heavy snow

At least 11,000 villagers have been trapped by snow and blizzards in Serbia's mountains, authorities said Thursday, as the death toll from Eastern Europe's deep freeze rose to 114.
Image: ice feature
Wooden figurines transformed into sculptures of ice in Seegraeben, Switzerland, Thursday as arctic temperatures hit much of Central and Eastern Europe.Steffen Schmidt / EPA
/ Source: news services

At least 11,000 villagers have been trapped by heavy snow and blizzards in Serbia's mountains, authorities announced Thursday, as the death toll from Eastern Europe's weeklong deep freeze rose to 114.

Those stranded live in some 6,500 homes in remote areas that cannot be reached due to icy, snow-clogged roads, emergency police official Predrag Maric said. Emergency crews were pressing hard to try to clear the snow and deliver badly needed supplies.

"We are trying everything to unblock the roads, since more snow and blizzards are expected in the coming days," Maric said.

Twenty more deaths from the cold were reported in Ukraine on Thursday, with nine more in Poland and one more each in Serbia and the Czech Republic. Officials said most of the victims were homeless.

"They say the whole February will be cold, and the first half of March, so we have to get ready for this somehow," said Viktor, who is living on the streets of Kiev, Ukraine.

Parts of Black Sea freeze
Temperatures across the region sank to minus 26.5 F in some areas. Parts of the Black Sea froze near the Romanian coastline, and rare snow fell on Croatian islands in the Adriatic Sea.

In Bulgaria, 16 towns recorded their lowest temperatures since records started 100 years ago.

Polish government spokeswoman Malgorzata Wozniak said her country's victims were mostly homeless people under the influence of alcohol who had sought shelter in unheated buildings. Officials appealed to the public Thursday to quickly help anyone they saw in need.

In Ukraine, 63 people have perished from the cold in the past week. Nearly 950 others were hospitalized with hypothermia and frostbite, and more than 2,000 heated tents have been set up with hot food for the homeless.

A source at the Russian gas export monopoly, Gazprom, which supplies a quart er of Europe's gas imports, said it was getting more requests from export markets than it could physically accommodate as demand from Russia spiked.

"Despite increasing gas consumption in Russia due to heavy frosts, Gazprom continues implementing its contractual obligations to European clients," it said.

To the south, helicopters evacuated dozens of people from snow-blocked villages in Serbia and Bosnia this week and airlifted in food and medicine.

In central Serbia, choppers pulled out 12 people, including nine who went to a funeral but then could not get back over icy, snow-choked roads. Two more people froze to death in the snow, and two others are missing, bringing that nation's death toll to five.

"The situation is dramatic. The snow is up to five meters (16 1/2 feet) high in some areas — you can only see rooftops," said Dr. Milorad Dramacanin, who participated in the helicopter evacuations.

Two helicopters on Wednesday rescued people and resupplied remote villages in northern Bosnia.

"We are trying to get through to several small villages, with each just a few elderly residents," said Bosnian rescue official Milimir Doder. "Altogether some 200-300 people are cut off. We are supplying them for the second day with food and medication."

'Barely coping'
In the small Bosnian hamlet of Han Kran on Mount Romanija, villagers waited for a helicopter at a flat spot that they had cleared of snow.

"We are barely coping. I live on my own — it is a real struggle," said Radenka Jeftovic, an elderly woman wrapped in woolen scarves and hugging a food package she received.

Goran Milat, a younger resident, complained that "the minuses are killing us."

"We are thankful for this help," he said. "But the snow did what it did, and we are blocked here until spring."

Some Bosnian villages have had no electricity for days, and crews were working round-the-clock trying to fix power lines.

Schools, nurseries and colleges across the region shut down, including one school in eastern Hungary that said it could not afford the high heating bills. The airport in Montenegro's capital of Podgorica was shut down for a second day Thursday because of heavy snowfall.