More than 80 people have died in a severe cold snap in Europe, most in Ukraine. Heavy snow has disrupted travel and shipping, as the winter weather spreads west.
A severe cold snap that has killed more than 80 people over the past five days has spread, resulting in record low temperatures and heavy snow in much of eastern and central Europe.
Most of the victims have been in Ukraine, where 40 people have died of hypothermia. Twenty-one of those victims were homeless, found frozen on the streets. More than 450 others have been hospitalized with hypothermia and frostbite, according to health officials.
Temperatures are expected to fall to minus 28 degrees Celsius (minus 18 degrees Fahrenheit) in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, on Wednesday.
Schools, nurseries and colleges have been shut down and authorities have set up hundreds of heated shelters with hot tea and food for the homeless.
In Poland, where the mercury sank to minus 27 degrees Celsius on Tuesday, national police said the death toll had hit 27.
Bulgaria has reported record lows and the Danube has begun to freeze over, threatening transportation on one of Europe's major waterways. Shipping has already been stopped on the Oder River in eastern Germany due to ice floes.
On Tuesday, 18 towns in Bulgaria, including the capital Sofia, recorded their coldest temperature since records started 100 years ago. In the northeastern town of Kneja, the national weather service reported a low of minus 29 degrees. Thermometers in parts of Bulgaria plunged to record lows. ATM cash machines were frozen in Sofia, the daily newspaper Trud reported.
Eight people have died in Romania since the cold spell began, and a number of deaths have also been reported in other eastern European countries.
The cold wave began moving west on Tuesday, as snow in Switzerland grounded flights and Italian motorists prepared for traffic disruptions.
Polandand the Czech Republic have already seen massive snowfalls over the last few days, disrupting rail services and cutting off hundreds of small villages. Slovenians endured wind gusts of up to 180 kph (112 mph), which blew off roofs and prompted authorities to close schools.
The southern half of the continent hasn't been spared. In Athens, temperatures dropped as low as minus 12 degrees.
Supply and demand
Russian gas provider Gazprom, supplier of a quarter of Europe's imports, said the demand on the market was so great that it could not physically accommodate the demand, as gas use in Russia spikes. The company assured clients on Wednesday that despite increased consumption it will continue to ''implement its contractual obligations to European clients.''
European weather forecasters have warned the severe cold is likely to persist in many parts of continental Europe for at least another week.
jw/cmk/acb (AP, AFP)