Emergency food flown into stranded European towns

Posted Feb. 13, 2012, at 10:17 p.m.

BUCHAREST, Romania — Military planes and police helicopters flew in tons of emergency food to snowbound villages and ships in the Balkans on Monday, after blizzards so fierce that some people had to cut tunnels through 15 feet of snow to get out of their homes.

Since the end of January, Eastern Europe has been pummeled by a record-breaking cold snap and the heaviest snowfall in recent memory. Hundreds of people, many of them homeless, have died in the bitter cold and tens of thousands have been trapped by blocked roads inside homes with little heat.

Authorities declared a state of emergency Monday in eastern Romania, where 6,000 people have been cut off for days. About a dozen major roads were closed, 300 trains canceled and more than 1,000 schools shut down.

In addition to the flights, the defense ministry also sent 8,000 soldiers out clearing roads across Romania and helping those trapped by the overwhelming snow.

Emergency officials in Serbia used helicopters to deliver food and evacuate sailors stuck on icebound boats on the Danube river near the town of Smederevo. They also resupplied a Danube island near Pancevo, north of the capital of Belgrade.

Scores of flights across the region were canceled. The airport in the southern Romanian city of Craiova was closed after a plane carrying 48 people skidded during takeoff Monday and landed in a pile of snow, breaking its propellers. A female passenger broke her leg after she jumped from the plane.

President Traian Basescu tried to assure Romanians the country has enough energy supplies to prevent shortages but said the government was deciding whether to stop exporting energy, which national energy company Transelectrica wants to do.

A tugboat on the Danube river, one of Europe’s key waterways, was breaking up ice between the ports of Sulina and Tulcea in eastern Romania. The boat was also bringing in food to remote villages in the Danube Delta, where supplies have been affected after 440 miles of the river froze over last week. The Danube winds 1,785 miles through nine European countries to the Black Sea.

In Serbia, tens of thousands are still stranded by the snow, while schools and most businesses stayed closed for a second week due to emergency measures to save energy.

An avalanche hit western Serbia late Sunday near the artificial lake of Perucac, sweeping away a man as his wife and child waited in the car nearby. Rescuers say divers would look for the man in the lake.

In Montenegro, rescuers started evacuating some 50 passengers who have been stranded for three days on a train that was blocked inside a tunnel by an avalanche. So far, a little girl and two elderly people have been pulled out and evacuated by helicopter.

Rescuers in southern Kosovo over the weekend pulled a 5-year-old girl alive from the rubble of a house flattened by a massive avalanche that killed both her parents and at least seven relatives. Her home in the remote mountain village of Restelica was buried under 33 feet of snow.

In the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, the roof of the Grbavica stadium partially collapsed Monday under the weight of heavy snow but no one was injured. It was the second stadium roof collapse in Sarajevo in as many days.

Bosnia has been paralyzed with record snowfall for over a week. Temperatures as low as minus 8 Fahrenheit have made it difficult to clear the snow.

Even regions far from the Balkans have been affected by the deep freeze. North of Paris, icebreakers made their way Monday through the frozen Canal St. Denis.

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