x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Snow traps thousands in Bosnian villages as adverse weather hits Europe

Meanwhile, Pope Benedict XVI donned an overcoat to bless the few pilgrims who braved Rome's cold weather to visit St Peter's Square.

Dutch ice skaters test the thickness of ice along Amsterdam's frozen Keizersgracht canal.
Dutch ice skaters test the thickness of ice along Amsterdam's frozen Keizersgracht canal.

SARAJEVO // Bosnia used helicopters yesterday to evacuate the sick and deliver food to thousands of people left stranded by its heaviest snowfall ever, while Pope Benedict XVI donned an overcoat to bless the few pilgrims who braved Rome's cold weather to visit St Peter's Square.

"The snow is beautiful, but let's hope spring comes soon," the pope told the congregation, looking out over remnants of Rome's biggest snowstorm since 1986.

Across Eastern Europe, thousands of people continued to dig out from heavy snow that has fallen during a cold snap that struck more than a week ago and has killed hundreds of people.

In Ukraine, the hardest hit area, temperatures have fallen as low as -36°C. The government said yesterday that the country's death toll now stands at 131. About 2,300 other Ukrainians have sought treatment for frostbite or hypothermia.

At the other end of Europe, Britain had its first snowfall of the winter on Saturday — up to 16 centimetres — forcing London's Heathrow Airport to cancel flights and stranding many drivers overnight on highways. Stansted, Birmingham and Luton airports suspended operations overnight as snow piled up on runways, but resumed operations yesterday.

In Bosnia, more than 100 remote villages have been cut off by 2 metres of snow in the mountains. More than 1 metre fell in Sarajevo, where a state of emergency has been declared.

Three helicopters cruised over eastern Bosnia yesterday, delivering food and picking up people who needed to be evacuated. Sarajevo has been paralysed since Friday evening and authorities have ordered schools closed. Residents have volunteered to remove snow and ice from the trams that are stuck along the city's tracks.

In Serbia, officials said 70,000 people remain cut off. So far, 32 municipalities throughout the country have introduced emergency measures, said emergency official Predrag Maric. In Montenegro, the north of the country remained cut off, although emergency crews have managed to clear some of the blocked roads.

The situation also had improved somewhat in Croatia, where bus traffic towards the coast resumed, even as snow slowed traffic throughout the country. In the coastal town of Split, dozens of people sought medical help for injuries sustained on ice and snow. Snow is extremely rare in Split, which is on the Adriatic coast.

Snow also has fallen on Spain's Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean.

In Rome, the pope managed to keep his Sunday appointment at the window of his studio overlooking St Peter's Square, still covered with snow from the day before. Meanwhile, Rome's mayor is being criticised for the lack of snow ploughs and salters. But the city counters that it cannot spend millions of euros on equipment that might not be used in decades.