WARSAW: An extreme Siberian cold snap sweeping across Europe is claiming lives in Poland and Romania, but also dusted the ancient ruins of Pompeii with snow Tuesday and prompted Amsterdam authorities to prepare the city’s iconic canals for ice-skaters.
The Red Cross said its emergency teams were sheltering and providing medical treatment to thousands of people as a blast of icy air from the northeast dubbed the “Beast from the East” continued to sweep across Europe.
Red Cross volunteers dug people out of snow-trapped homes in Croatia, staffed homeless shelters in Belgium and patrolled city streets with hot drinks and food for homeless people in places such as Spain and Italy that typically enjoy mild winters.
Britain, which is buffered by the Atlantic Ocean and tends to have temperate winters, saw heavy snow in some areas that disrupted road, rail and air travel and forced hundreds of schools to close. British Airways canceled a number of short flights while trying to preserve its long-haul schedule to and from London Heathrow Airport.
In Poland, police said five people died from the cold between Monday and Tuesday after temperatures dropped in some areas to -22 C (-7.6 F), bringing the country’s winter total for deaths due to hypothermia to 58.
Authorities in some Polish cities and towns, especially in the east where temperatures were the lowest, installed coal heaters in the streets since most of the people who succumbed to the cold were homeless or drunk. Authorities in Warsaw also increased patrols, paying particular attention to people lying and sitting in the street.
Blizzards battered Romania, leaving scores of roads blocked by snowdrifts. Three deaths were reported there. Among the victims was a 65-year-old man found frozen to death outside his home in northern Romania.
In France, some migrants braved the chill with little more than tents and sleeping bags. In a makeshift camp along the banks of a canal running through northeast Paris, a group of largely Afghan migrants lit a small fire Tuesday morning to warm their hands after spending a sleepless night in temperatures that dropped below minus 5 C (23 F).
Germany also suffered one of its coldest nights of the winter. The mercury dropped below minus 10 degrees Celsius (14 Fahrenheit) in large parts of the country and to minus 30.4 C (minus 22 F) atop the country’s highest peak, the Zugspitze in the Alps.
A day after Rome was blanketed with a thick pile of snow, the Eternal City all but returned to normal Tuesday. But the same storm traveled south overnight to Naples and the islands of Ischia and Capri, and left the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, leveled by molten lava nearly 2,000 years ago, coated with a light dusting of snow.
Naples city officials said they were misled by forecasts and ended up unprepared for the snow. In the Netherlands, authorities banned boats from some of Amsterdam’s iconic canals so they would freeze over and residents could lace up ice skates and glide over the waterways for the first time since 2012.
The local water authority said it was also closing sluices and locks to hasten ice growth by slowing the movement of water.
Nicole Winfield in Rome, Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, Greg Katz in London, Samuel Petrequin in Paris, Frank Jordans in Berlin, Alison Mutler in Bucharest and Monika Scislowska in Warsaw contributed.