• Monday, Sep 24, 2018
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‘Beast from the East’ blankets Europe in snow

  • Published at 10:13 pm March 1st, 2018
‘Beast from the East’ blankets Europe in snow

Heavy snowfall and deadly blizzards lashed Europe Thursday, forcing Geneva's busy airport to close, as the region shivered in a deep freeze that has gripped countries from the far north to Mediterranean beaches in the south.

The snowstorms, unusual for much of Europe at this time of year, left roads blocked, thousands of drivers stranded and schools shut, with weather agencies predicting the biting cold would continue in parts of the region at least through Thursday evening.

The death toll continued to mount, as another three people perished in Poland, taking the number of victims there to 21, most of them rough sleepers.

There have also been six deaths in the Czech Republic in recent days, five in Lithuania, four each in France and Slovakia, three in Spain, two each in Italy, Serbia, Romania and Slovenia, and one each in Britain and the Netherlands.

One of the Spanish victims was a 39-year-old homeless man who had been sleeping in an abandoned truck.

"Those most at risk of cold-related illness include elderly people, children, and people who have chronic diseases or physical or mental limitations," the World Health Organization said in a statement, adding that the poor, the homeless and migrants were often hardest hit.

The Siberian cold front - dubbed the "Beast from the East" in Britain, "Siberian bear" by the Dutch and the "snow cannon" by Swedes - on Thursday forced Geneva airport to announce it was shut until further notice.

Switzerland has in recent days seen temperatures plunge to nearly -°40C at higher altitudes.

In Britain, Storm Emma, rolling in from the Atlantic, looked poised to meet the Siberian chill, causing further snowfall and bitterly cold temperatures.

A red alert was extended Thursday for southwestern England, southern Wales and Scotland - meaning extreme weather, a risk to life, widespread damage and transport disruptions - with wind and snow expected through the night.

No spring amulets

Europe's cold snap comes as the Arctic experiences record-high temperatures, prompting scientists to ask if global warming may be playing a role in turning things upside down.

The unusually cold weather has also impacted local customs, as the first spring month began.

In Romania, people were marking the day without the amulets they traditionally exchange.

In the capital Bucharest, where it has been snowing since Monday and where temperatures have been hovering around -°10C, sales of the "martisor" good luck charms have plummeted along with the temperature.

Florists have also suffered, as the amulet is often given with a bunch of flowers.

"The 1st of March is the most important day of the year for us, where we sell the most flowers," florists' association president Adrian Dinca told AFP.