Europe freezes, people die as snow falls and temperatures plunge


People walk next to a tramway on Istanbul's main shopping street, Istiklal Avenue, during the weekend's heavy snowfalls.
People walk next to a tramway on Istanbul's main shopping street, Istiklal Avenue, during the weekend's heavy snowfalls.
Brrr! Snow falls across Europe, more than 20 die, no end in sight

Icy weekend temperatures across Europe have left more than 20 people dead and blanketed the usually sun-drenched Greek islands and southern Italy in snow.

Normally mild Greece has witnessed temperatures of -15C in the north. Temperatures dropped to -7C in the second largest city, Thessaloniki.

Roads were closed across large swaths of northern Greece because of snow and ice.

In Athens, the temperature failed to rise above 0C and several islands were covered in snow.

Some of the islands are home to thousands of migrants and many are being moved to temporary housing and heated tents.

In Italy eight deaths were blamed on the extreme cold. They included a man living in the basement of an unused building in Milan and another on a street beside Florence’s Arno river. Homeless hostels are opening their doors day and night.

Heavy snow and high winds resulted in rerouted flights, delayed ferries, cancelled trains and closed roads. Sicily, Bari and Brindisi airports closed.

With no indication of a letup, some schools in the south were ordered not to open because of as much as 1m of snow. Fountains in Rome’s St Peter’s Square froze overnight.

Turkey has been badly affected. Snow has been falling on Istanbul for several days and Turkish Airlines grounded more than 650 flights in and out of the city’s two airports.

The Bosphorus Strait, which runs through Istanbul and is one of Europe’s busiest shipping lanes, was closed and ferry services halted.

One of the city’s main highways practically turned into a carpark after drivers deserted their vehicles to walk home rather than battle snow and slippery roads.

At least 10 people died of cold in Poland. Temperatures dropped below -20C yesterday and even colder nights are forecast.

Russia experienced its coldest Orthodox Christmas in 120 years. Night temperatures plunged to -30C.

However, 500 cyclists took to Moscow’s streets in an event to promote cycling. The participants, some dressed as Santa Claus or the Russian equivalent, braved temperatures of -27C.

“Not one of the participants ended up going to the doctors after it finished,” organisers said.

Czech officials said Prague had its coldest night this winter, with three deaths reported, two of them homeless people.

In Bulgaria three people, including a man from Iraq and a Somali woman, died from cold in the mountains as they tried to make their way in to Europe.

Aid workers in Serbia helped hundreds of migrants sleeping rough in parks and makeshift shelters, and authorities banned river traffic on the Danube because of the conditions.

A man died in Belgium when his truck slid off a highway.

In northern Europe, where residents are accustomed to sub-zero temperatures and snowy winters, Danish police warned about icy and slippery roads after dozens of minor traffic accidents.

Cold conditions are expected to hit Britain towards the end of this week, with snow possible across most of the country. The wintry weather is expected to start in the north and spread south.

The Met Office said: “On Thursday, the showers spread further south and east, putting most places at risk of showers. It is going to turn much chillier, particularly through Thursday and Friday. Some areas could see snow, and some pretty significant snow.”


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