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Record cold hits Mediterranean sunspots

By MICHAEL DENNIGAN

LONDON -- Vacationers on the French Riviera Wednesday found 15 inches of snow along the palm-fringed coast and the holy water froze in Cologne Cathedral as a blast of Siberian cold that has left 111 people dead gripped Europe and North Africa for the sixth day.

New snowfalls, some mixed with sleet and rain, fell on all central and southern regions of Italy where at least 15 people were reported dead since Sunday in weather-related incidents. Police reported nearly 1,000 people injured in severe falls on slippery surfaces.

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Weather experts said Rome, Naples and the vacation resorts of Sardinia were suffering their severest snow siege in 28 years. But traffic returned to near normal when the snow turned to slush in temperatures just above freezing.

Thirteen airports were closed throughout Italy, although Rome's Leonardo Da Vinci stayed open. Trains were delayed by an average five hours and tire chains were needed on most highways.

In France, where the government ordered Paris subway stations to stay open to shelter the homeless from the killing chill, a total of 36 people were reported dead from cold. Most were vagrants or people living in unheated homes.

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In the worst weather-related disaster, an electrical short circuit believed caused by a burst water pipe set off a blaze at a nursing home in Grandvilliers, France that killed 24 bedridden elderly patients.

The Riviera's Cote d'Azur was covered in 15 inches of snow, and the mercury plummeted to a new low of 12 degrees Fahrenheit. Nice airport remained closed, but autobuses resumed running after two days off the icy roads.

Farmers in the Roussillon area of southwest France said the cold snap had wiped out some 27,000 tons of lettuce, 15 percent of the wheat crop and 90 percent of the artichoke crop.

The French society for prevention of cruelty to animals denounced people who left dogs and cats in the cold as well as farmers leaving livestock without shelter.

Inside West Germany's Cologne Cathedral, the holy water froze and church authorities said they were shortening cathedral services because of the cold.

Spanish authorities reported at least 10 weather deaths in Spain - nine frozen to death in Barcelona and Madrid, and a child falling through ice on a frozen river in Pamplona.

Half of Barcelona and most of its business center were without power Wednesday when high demand caused a power failure.

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Thirteen deaths were reported in snow-related accidents in Yugoslavia since Friday. Authorities appealed to the population to conserve power because a 30 percent rise in demand had threatened the system with blackouts.

In Austria five people froze to death since the cold onslaught began. Most of the victims were drunk. Austrian television said the government would house about 100 homeless vagrants in the city until the cold subsides

In Algeria, 26 people died in a week of rain, floods and sub-zero temperatures that hit the country on the southern shore of the Mediterranean last week when the cold snap began.

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