THE big freeze gripping Europe has claimed the lives of 175 people – with forecasters warning: “It’s only going to get colder.”
Temperatures have tumbled below -10C in most capital cities, with 38 people dying from frostbite in Ukraine and black ice causing chaos and carnage on roads.
Forecasters said the cold snap, which has gripped a large swath of the continent from Russia to Serbia has reached as far west as the Netherlands.
In Ukraine, the hardest hit country, health officials have told hospitals to stop discharging the hundreds of homeless patients after they are treated for hypothermia and frostbite. The goal is to prevent them from dying once they are released into temperatures as low as -32C.
In Serbia, at least 11,000 villagers are stranded in their homes by heavy snow and blizzards which have hit remote areas that cannot be reached due to icy, snow-clogged roads.
The worst weather is near Serbia’s southwestern town of Sijenica, where it has been freezing cold or snowing for 26 days, and diesel fuel supplies used by snowploughs to clear roads are running low.
Snow fell in Rome for the first time in 26 years as freezing temperatures.
The Italian capital is usually blessed by a moderate climate but the snowfall prompted authorities stop visitors from entering the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill, the former home of Rome’s ancient emperors.
The last substantial snowfalls in Rome were in 1985 and 1986, though there have been other cases of lighter snow since then.The director of the Colosseum, Rossella Rea, said the sites were closed out of fears that visitors could slip on ice.
Snow began falling late on Friday morning, forming slush on the roads. It wasn’t clear if there would be any significant accumulation on the ground.
France reported its first frost victim on Friday, an elderly man suffering from Alzheimer’s who became lost overnight in a forest in the north-eastern Moselle region wearing only his pyjamas. The temperature dropped to -16C.
Ukraine Health Minister Mykola Blyznyuk said that many of the victims of hypothermia had broken their legs in falls and spent a long time in freezing temperatures while waiting for help to arrive.
Of the Ukrainians who have died since the cold spell hit on January 27, some 64 people were found frozen on the streets, 11 died in hospitals and 26 in their homes.
It comes after the British Met Office raised fears for the elderly and ill by issuing its first level 3 cold weather alert of the winter yesterday.
Severe weather warnings forecast icy conditions and snow in much of England over the weekend.