Extreme cold weather kills 260 in Europe

The death toll from the vicious cold snap across Europe has risen to more than 260, with hundreds having to be rescued after a ferry caught in a snow storm hit a breakwater off Italy. Ukraine has suffered the heaviest toll with 122 deaths, including many who froze to death in the streets as temperatures plunged to as low as -38.1oC. Airports were shut, flights and trains delayed, and highways gridlocked as emergency services raced to clear falling snow.

In Italy, the ferry Sharden hit a breakwater shortly after setting off from the port of Civitavecchia near Rome. It caused panic among the 262 passengers who feared a repeat of a cruise ship tragedy in the area last month that is thought to have killed 32 people.

Coastguard spokesman Carnine Albano said the accident, which tore a 25m hole in the ship’ s side above the waterline, happened after the vessel was buffeted by a violent snow storm from the north-east. All passengers were evacuated and no injuries reported. The heaviest snowfall in 27 years in Rome caused the capital, better known for its warm sunshine, to grind to a halt with taxis and buses unable to navigate through the icy streets without snow chains.

Parts of the Venice lagoon also froze over. Among the cold-weather deaths in Italy was 46- year- old woman who died in Avellino, near Naples in southern Italy, after a greenhouse roof laden with snow collapsed on her. A homeless man in his sixties of German origin was found dead, apparently of cold, in the central town of Castiglione del Lago.

These latest deaths brought the total in Italy to seven. In Poland, the death toll rose to 45 as temperatures reached minus 27C in the north- east. In Romania, four more victims were found, bringing the number of fatalities in the country to 28. The cold snap has also killed people in Bosnia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Italy, Slovakia, France, Austria and Greece. Snow fell in Bosnia for the second straight day, paralysing traffic, with one patient dying as an ambulance was unable to reach his village in the south of the country.

In France, snow fell from Lille in the north to Marseille in the south, though the west of the country and the capital Paris were spared.

A 12- year- old boy died in the eastern French city of Strasbourg when the ice broke as he played with a friend on a frozen pond, paramedics said. “He fell straight through and couldn’t be revived by the medics,” Philippe Biette, of the emergency services said. His friend, 11, was in hospital being treated for hypothermia after plunging in to try to save him. Frigid temperatures even edged into north Africa, with the temperature forecast to drop below freezing in Algiers on Saturday night.

In Algeria’s eastern region, a 17- year- old man was assumed killed after he was swept away by a swollen river. Many domestic and international flights were cancelled.