NEW: Temperatures in Bucharest drop way below freezing for the 18th day in a row
The number of deaths blamed on the cold rises to 16 in Serbia, state media report
Italy is braced for more heavy snow, a week after wintry weather paralyzed many cities
More cold-related deaths are reported in Poland, taking the total to almost 100
Europe remained gripped by frigid temperatures and snow Friday, with the icy weather closing much of the Danube River to shipping and disrupting travel across the region.
Central and Eastern Europe have borne the brunt of the unseasonably bitter weather, which has led to hundreds of deaths and thousands of cases of frostbite and hypothermia.
Twenty-two countries have posted warnings for extreme cold temperatures and accumulating snow, CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller said.
The big freeze is not likely to end any time soon, Miller said, with the Arctic air forecast to continue spilling deep into Europe, keeping temperatures well below average and allowing the snow to continue to pile higher and higher.
In Ukraine, the worst-affected country, well over 100 people have died and more than 3,000 have sought hospital treatment.
State news agency Ukrinform said more than 120 ships – most of them foreign – were trapped in the Kerch Strait, linking the Sea of Azov to the Black Sea, because of ice.
Parts of the Danube River, one of the most important rivers in Europe for commerce, have nearly frozen over for the first time in 25 years.
That has led at least four countries to halt shipping along sections of the 1,700-mile-long waterway because of the risk of damage to vessels’ hulls. The river is also used for drinking water, irrigation and tourism.
The stretch of the Danube running through Romania has been closed indefinitely to traffic, Romanian state television network TVR reported Friday. However, most roads had reopened as of late Thursday, TVR reported, although major problems remain on the country’s rail network.
Romania’s capital, Bucharest, reached a low of -24 degrees C for the second morning running Friday, its lowest temperature since the cold snap began two weeks ago.
Bucharest has not seen the mercury climb above the 0 degree Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit) freezing point since January 24, Miller said. The average high for this time of year is 3 degrees Celsius (37 degrees Fahrenheit).
Snow is lying 11 inches deep in Bucharest but has piled up even higher to the west, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the capital, Sarajevo, has seen over 39 inches accumulate in the past two weeks, Miller said. A year ago, the city was covered by less than half an inch of snow.
The Balkan Peninsula has been hammered with a series of potent snow storms, the result of a jet stream that has sagged much farther south than normal, allowing storms to pick up moisture over the waters of the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas and dump it on the already frozen landscape of the Balkans, Miller added.
In Serbia, the death toll from the cold snap rose to 16 on Friday, Interior Ministry emergencies official Predrag Maric told Serbian state news agency Tanjug.