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Deadly European cold spell not letting up

Feb. 8, 2012 at 10:25 PM

PARIS, Feb. 8 (UPI) -- The deep freeze blamed for hundreds of deaths in Europe so far showed no signs of loosening its grip Wednesday, officials said.

The cold has killed more than 300 people, mostly in Eastern Europe, various media have reported. In Ukraine, at least 135 deaths in the past two weeks are blamed on the weather, and Emergency Situations Minister Viktor Balaga said 112 have involved alcohol abuse.

At least another 64 have died in Russia, 53 in Poland, 39 in Romania, 15 in Bulgaria, 11 in the Czech Republic and more reported dead elsewhere across the continent, news media have reported.

In Turkey, hundreds of rural roads were closed by heavy snow, Today's Zaman said.

The Italian news agency ANSA reported there have been at least 40 deaths in Italy with colder temperatures and more snow in the forecast heading into the weekend.

In Rome, schools opened Wednesday for the first time in three days after snow, almost unknown in the city, brought the Italian capital to a halt.

The frigid temperatures disrupted air and rail travel in France, Radio 24 said. In Britain, the meteorological office warned rain would almost certainly turn the roads icy and then turn to snow.

The cold spell has also brought a shortage of natural gas while power usage has hit a record high in much of Europe.

Omar Baddour of the United Nations World Meteorological Organization said the deadly cold spell is not expected to begin to moderate until at least next week, The Sophia (Bulgaria) Echo reported.

Baddour told reporters in Geneva, Switzerland, the "negative arctic oscillation" that has caused the cold conditions in Europe is forecast to shift into a more neutral pattern within two to three weeks.

"So, based on this indicator, we might expect -- it's not a deterministic forecast -- [but] we might expect the changing of the current cold wave might start easing slowly from next week to the end of the month," the U.N. official said.

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