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Europe death toll rises in big freeze

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 1:52 PM EST, Wed February 1, 2012
In the Ukrainian capital of Kiev temperatures dropped to -20° degrees Celsius.
In the Ukrainian capital of Kiev temperatures dropped to -20° degrees Celsius.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The heart of the cold air is centered over Eastern Europe, a CNN meteorologist says
  • More than 30 people have died as a result of the cold in Ukraine, officials say
  • Even colder weather and heavy snow are forecast later this week for some areas
  • The icy conditions are spreading westward across Europe

London (CNN) -- Sub-zero temperatures continued to keep eastern Europe in their grip Wednesday, leading to the deaths of 31 people in Ukraine so far, emergency officials there said.

For several days, unusually cold weather and snow have slammed Eastern Europe, as well as other parts of Europe and central and western Turkey.

CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller said the heart of the cold air was still centered over Eastern Europe Wednesday, including Russia, Romania, Belarus and Poland as well as Ukraine, with temperatures generally a couple of degrees lower Wednesday than the day before.

The Romanian capital, Bucharest, saw a low of -23 degrees Celsius (-9.4 degrees Fahrenheit) early Wednesday, compared with an average low of -4 degrees Celsius (25 degrees Fahrenheit) at this time of year.

Ukraine's capital, Kiev, was shivering at -22 degrees Celsius (-7.6 degree Fahrenheit), with the mercury expected to drop to -31 degrees Celsius (-23.8 degree Fahrenheit) during the night.

Most of the dead in Ukraine were homeless but some people died in their homes, the country's Emergencies Ministry said.

The death toll has risen sharply since two days ago, the ministry said. Almost 700 people have also been hospitalized with injuries related to the freeze.

In several regions of Ukraine, including Kiev, entire housing complexes have been left without electricity or heating because of power failures. Schools are likely to close Thursday as temperatures are expected to drop below -24 degrees Celsius (-11.2 degrees Fahrenheit), officials said.

The Emergencies Ministry is doing everything possible to combat the weather and has set up 1,600 heating centers across the country to assist people without power or heating, it said.

Temperatures could drop at the weekend to -30 degrees Celsius (-22 degrees Fahrenheit) in the daytime, the ministry warned.

The health ministry said most of the deaths had occurred in eastern Ukraine, in the city of Donetsk and adjacent towns and villages.

In Poland, five people died overnight, taking the total number of deaths to 15 since the icy weather rolled in Friday, the publicly-funded Polish Radio's news website reported Wednesday. Most of those who died were homeless.

Elsewhere, the bad weather was blamed for the sinking of a cargo ship carrying scrap metal off Turkey's Black Sea coast late Tuesday.

Divers, helicopters and coast guard ships have been scrambled in an effort to find eight missing crew members from the Cambodian-flagged ship Vera.

In Istanbul, Turkey's largest city, the municipality mobilized nearly 2,600 personnel and more than 870 vehicles to try to keep roads open, as snow reached depths of up to 38 centimeters (1.2 feet).

The unusual snowfall forced the cancellation and delay of scores of flights, as visibility was occasionally reduced to less than 50 meters (164 feet) mid-morning Wednesday.

Istanbul also suspended its high-speed sea bus service, which ferries passengers up and down the Bosphorus Strait and stretches of the Marmara Sea.

According to the Istanbul municipality's website, at least 378 homeless citizens have been brought to shelters and hotels to escape the freezing temperatures.

One man died when he fell in a well that was covered by snow moments after having his photo taken in the record snow, the mayor's office said.

More snow and bitter cold temperatures are expected Thursday from Edirne to Istanbul, with the heaviest snowfall expected in the Marmara region. Turkey's cold spell is forecast to ease Friday.

The cold air also pushed westward Wednesday, with Paris dipping to -5 degrees Celsius (23 degrees Fahrenheit). The French capital may not top the freezing mark until the middle of next week, said Miller.

In Italy, several professional soccer matches have been canceled or postponed due to the icy weather, according to Italy's ANSA news agency.

One weather-related death, that of a one-year-old child trapped in a car swept into a gully, has been reported in Siracusa, Sicily, the news agency said.

The cold will not loosen its grip on most of continental Europe until next week, Miller said, although parts of southeastern Europe and the Balkans could see temperatures begin to moderate on Friday as a result of a low pressure system moving in from the Mediterranean Sea.

This system will also dump heavy snowfall in the Balkans, mirroring the recent snow storm which ushered in the cold blast for many locations in southeast Europe.

Journalist Alexey Yaroshevsky and CNN's Talia Kayali, Laura Smith-Spark and Theo Nikolaou contributed to this report.

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