Europe freeze kills 89, fears rise over Russian gas

Reuters News
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Posted: Feb 01, 2012 10:08 AM
Europe freeze kills 89, fears rise over Russian gas

By Richard Balmforth and Matt Robinson

KIEV/BELGRADE (Reuters) - Record-low temperatures in parts of Eastern Europe pushed the death toll from Arctic conditions to at least 89 people on Wednesday, and have forced Russian gas provider Gazprom to warn over supplies to Europe.

Europe had enjoyed a relatively mild winter up until last weekend, but a Siberian system swinging in from the east brought that to an abrupt halt.

A source at Russian gas export monopoly, which supplies a quarter of Europe's gas imports, said it was getting more requests from export markets than it could physically accommodate as demand from Russia spikes.

The company however sought to reassure clients on Wednesday. "Despite increasing gas consumption in Russia due to heavy frosts, Gazprom continues implementing its contractual obligations to European clients," it said in e-mailed comments.

In Ukraine, 43 people have died in the past five days, its emergency ministry said, as the former Soviet republic shivered through its coldest winter in six years. Overnight temperatures sank as low as minus 33 degrees Celsius (minus 27 Fahrenheit) and hundreds of heated tents have been put up to shelter the homeless.

"They say the whole February will be cold, and the first half of March, so we have to get ready for this somehow," said Viktor, who is living on the streets of Kiev.

European weather alert network Meteoalarm (www.meteoalarm.eu) warned of "extremely dangerous" conditions in several parts of eastern Europe, including Serbia, where a fourth person was found dead overnight in the southwestern Suvobor mountains.

Security forces there, and in neighboring Bosnia, have used helicopters to ferry supplies to areas cut off by deep snow and to evacuate the elderly. The forecast across the Balkans is for conditions to worsen through the week.

Meteoalarm said severe cold was likely to persist in many parts of continental Europe including Germany and especially in southeastern Europe.

In Moscow, where daytime temperatures fell as low as minus 22C (minus 8F) Celsius, opponents of Vladimir Putin worried that the cold could reduce attendance at a rally against the prime minister on Saturday, one month before he stands in presidential elections.

Thermometers in parts of Bulgaria plunged to record lows just shy of minus 30C (minus 22F), freezing ATM cash machines in Sofia, the daily newspaper Trud reported. Eight people in Bulgaria and 14 in neighboring Romania have now died in the cold snap.

Poland said five more people died overnight, two of them from carbon monoxide poisoning as people turned to risky heating to battle temperatures likely to remain as low at minus 26C (minus 15F) for several more days. The country's gas monopoly PGNiG said on Wednesday it was restricted industrial deliveries to meet increased heating demand.

Meanwhile in Slovenia, winds of up to 180 kph (112 mph) blew off roofs and prompted authorities to close some schools, authorities said.

(Reporting by Steve Gutterman in Moscow, Richard Balmforth in Kiev, Matt Robinson in Belgrade, Tsvetelia Tsolova in Sofia, Marja Novak in Ljubljana, Gabriela Baczynska in Warsaw, Radu Marinas in Bucharest; Writing by Ben Harding)