WARSAW – Europe shivered in some of the coldest temperatures seen in decades on Wednesday as the death toll topped 80 and countries battled to clear snow from roads and railways.
At least 28 people froze to death overnight in eastern and central Europe, while countries further west and south began to feel the effects of a cold front spreading from Siberia.
Snow hit Italy, which struggled to clear motorways and railways after heavy falls, and the French Mediterranean island of Corsica.
In Ukraine, officials said 13 people had died of hypothermia over the past 24 hours, bringing the overall toll there to 43 over the past six days.
Most were homeless people who froze to death on the streets, but seven died in their homes and more than 800 sought medical help for frostbite and hypothermia as temperatures plunged to minus 30 degrees Celsius (minus 22 Fahrenheit) in some regions.
Poland reported five people found dead overnight, bringing the overall toll to 20 since temperatures plummeted there on Friday. The victims, most of whom had been homeless, were four men aged 29 to 61 and an 83-year-old woman.
Besides the homeless, others died after getting drunk and falling asleep outdoors, police said, as officials reported temperatures diving to minus 30C in parts of the country.
In Slovakia, two people died as temperatures hit minus 24C (minus 4F), the daily newspaper SME reported.
And in the neighbouring Czech Republic a 47-year-old homeless man was found frozen to death in the eastern city of Karvina, where the mercury has dipped to minus 29C (minus 20F).
In Romania, six people died over the past 24 hours, bringing the toll to 144 over the past six days, the health ministry announced. One of the victims was a baby who died in an unheated house in the northeastern town of Iasi.
A total of 346 people, homeless or suffering from hypothermia, have been taken to hospital or rescue centres over the past 24 hours as temperatures fell to minus 32.5C (minus 26.5F) in the centre of the country, officials said.
In Bulgaria, two people died in the coldest weather in a century in some parts of the country, bringing the overall toll to 10.
The temperature sank to minus 29.4C (minus 20.9F) in the northeastern city of Knezha and minus 31.4C in the northern town of Sevlievo.
Guntars Grauss, director of Latvia's state medical centre, told the Delfi news portal that five men and two women had died in the final week of January when temperatures were at their lowest.
In a related incident a man died in the central town of Ogre on Tuesday after a traditional open fire used to heat homes got out of control.
A 25-year-old illegal migrant froze also to death while trying to cross the Evros river border between Greece and Turkey.
In Italy snow caused traffic chaos in the northern cities of Bologna and Milan and trucks were banned from the roads in the central regions of Marche, Tuscany and Umbria until further notice.
As bad weather halted all work around the beached cruise liner Costa Concordia, forecasters predicted more snow and colder temperatures in the days ahead, with a low of minus 20C (minus 4F) in the Alps.
In France, five men serving in the French Foreign Legion were buried by an avalanche while training in the Alps.
They were dug out by members of their brigade but one of the legionnaires died of a heart attack during the accident, the commander of French mountain troops Herve Wattecamps said.
Meanwhile, temperatures dipped to between minus 18C (minus 0.4F) and minus 25C (minus 13F) in parts of the north of the country.
Parts of north-east and central France have also been placed under "deep cold" watch until 7am (0600 GMT)
"We are seven degrees below the average of the season in both north and south," said forecaster Dominique Raspaud.
In Corsica, most mountain passes were closed by heavy snow and power cuts hit some 60,000 homes in the island and neighbouring French mainland.
But the Dutch were putting on their skates, staging the first marathon of the season on natural ice and hoping their canals would be sufficiently frozen to hold a classic 200km for the first time since 1997. AFP