The extreme cold in Europe has claimed close to 400 lives over the past ten days. There have been heart attacks from exertion, victims of slippery roads, electrical accidents, falling ice, floods from ice-blocked rivers or melting snow – and hypothermia.
Inadequate shelter, and in most of these cases none at all, has been the biggest killer. Mental confusion sets in as body warmth falls below safe levels.
A hospital patient in Kiev, Ukraine, who only just escaped death, said: “I had got my pay for work unloading boxes, bought myself some alcohol and got drunk. That was when I started to get frostbite. Then they brought me here by ambulance.”
Criticism of countries’ authorities is building.
A Kiev city councillor, Olexiy Davydenko, insisted that there must be accountability over the deaths. He said: “They don’t announce official mourning because then they would have to look at who is to blame, but there has to be an investigation.”
Snow-blocked roads have paralysed cities and cut off rural communities, endangering livestock too. Strain on electricity grids and disruption of heating gas supply has been widespread. High winds have closed ports on waterways, and of course hampered air transportation and emergency airlifts. Weather experts are being asked how long this deadly cold might last.
Omar Baddour, Chief of the Data Management Applications Division of the World Meteorological Organisation, said: “The current values of arctic oscillation will start to shift into neutral conditions by 2-3 weeks from now, so we might expect that the current cold wave might start easing slowly starting from next week up to the end of the month.”
Forecasters said that in some parts of Europe temperatures as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius
would continue until at least February 15. Eastern and Western Europe are affected.
The European Commissioner for Crisis Response, Kristalina Georgieva has warned that difficulties are expected to continue with warmer weather, with snowmelt.
French power grid operator RTE said overall European power demand rises by 5,000 MW following a one degree Celsius drop, with France in first place, driven by the use of electricity for heating in around 30 percent of French homes.
François Boulet, at a company which monitors electrical supplies in Western Europe, Coreso, the director said: “In France, most heating is electric, so consumption is closely linked to temperatures.”
Some families in the suburbs of the southern French city of Lyon have not had heating for ten days. School transport in several French regions was suspended. Malfunctioning combustion heaters have also claimed lives.
The father said: “The cold is unbearable, especially for the children. They stick to a corner, in their bed, and we put several blankets over them and they don’t move.”
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