12 dead as heavy snow, flooding slams Europe

Associated Press
Traffic sign is seen on a road flooded with water from the river Drina, in Gorazde, Bosnia, Thursday, Dec. 2, 2010. Authorities have declared a state of emergency and are evacuating people after heavy rainfall caused floods in several areas of Bosnia. (AP Photo/Amel Emric)
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Freezing temperatures and often blinding snowfall killed 12 more people and caused travel chaos across northern Europe on Thursday, while some of the worst floods in a century devastated parts of the Balkans.

Airports closed down or delayed flights across the continent, roads were coated in an impassible mix of ice and snow and even Europe's vaulted high-speed trains struggled to cope.

Authorities declared a state of emergency in three Balkan countries on Thursday — Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro — and were evacuating hundreds of people after heavy rainfall caused severe flooding along the Drina River — the worst in 104 years, officials said.

"From my terrace, I no longer see a river, but a lake that has flooded parts of the town's center," said Muris Razanica, whose hillside hotel has a stunning view of the Bosnian town of Gorazde.

"This area is famous for rafting but if this goes on, big ships will be able to dock in Gorazde, it's really unbelievable," he added as the federal army turned out to help evacuate people.

Tourist agencies in Bosnia handed over their rafts so Civil Protection workers could rescue people from apartments in Foca, where water levels have reached the first floor. Those who dared remain on upper floors were given food and water.

On the other side of the river, authorities in Serbia and Montenegro evacuated hundreds of people as the Drina flooded farms and roads. Schools were closed, many people had no electricity or heat, and water supplies were contaminated along the river in all three countries.

In Poland, the cold claimed 10 more lives, bringing the overall deaths there to 18, police spokesman Mariusz Sokolowski said, as police scourged the streets for homeless or drunk people in hopes of saving their lives.

Authorities in Berlin kept subway stations, soup kitchens and heated buses open all night to provide shelter for the city's homeless, and thousands in Germany had to sleep overnight on trains — either stuck by the wild weather or due to a lack of hotel rooms.

Two deaths were reported in Germany — a 73-year-old in Lower Saxony who was struck by a train while trying to clear snow and an 18-year-old in Baden-Wuerttemberg, who lost control of his vehicle on an icy road and crashed into a truck.

Air travel was upended. Gatwick Airport, one of Britain's busiest, was closed for a second straight day, canceling another 600 flights as conditions continued to deteriorate. Edinburgh Airport and London's City Airport were also closed until at least late evening, according to Eurocontrol, the air traffic agency.

Significant delays also hit airports at London Heathrow, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Amsterdam's Schiphol, Berlin's Tegel and Duesseldorf. In Geneva, the airport reopened only after removing 2,000 tractor-trailers full of snow from the runways.

Travelers hoping to fare better by road or rail were equally stymied as snow continued to fall across the U.K. and most of Germany, leaving thousands of motorists stranded overnight in their cars.

Some 3,000 stranded rail passengers struggled to sleep overnight in their trains, German railway operator Deutsche Bahn said. Another 200 passengers in Frankfurt spent the night in parked trains after local hotels fill to overflowing.

Nothing was moving along many of Germany's high-speed train links, such as between Nuremberg and Leipzig in the south and east, or between Hamburg and the Danish capital Copenhagen in the north.

Southeastern Denmark was also badly hit, and heavy snowfalls and icy winds severely hampered road and rail traffic. The Danish army used tracked armored personnel carriers to help ambulances and other emergency vehicles cut their way through mounds of snow.

Unusually cold and snowy weather also left city centers in southern Lyon, and towns on the French Atlantic coast snowed-in. One in five TGV fast trains linking Paris with the southeastern Provence region were also canceled Thursday.

Heavy snowfall in Poland created treacherous situations on many of the country's already abysmal roads. Thousands of Polish homes were left without electricity or heat as temperatures hovered around minus 10 Celsius (14 Fahrenheit).

Traffic was also chaotic in Germany, with hundreds of minor accidents. Police in Berlin alone counted 121 accidents Thursday morning.

A deep freeze gripped Sweden, with the lowest temperatures overnight Thursday measuring minus 29.6 Celsius (minus 21.3 Fahrenheit) in Lillhardal in the center of the country.

Thousands of people and livestock were also evacuated from northwestern Albania after severe floods. A state of emergency was declared in the city of Shkodra, which remains isolated from the rest of the country by days of heavy rain.

Authorities said more than 10,000 hectares (25,000 acres) were under water along Albania's swollen Drini and Buna rivers.

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Cassandra Vinograd and Robert Barr in London, Vanessa Gera in Warsaw, Frank Jordans in Geneva, Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Melissa Eddy in Berlin, Mike Corder in Amsterdam, Louise Nordstrom in Stockholm, Jenny Barchfield in Paris, Aida Cerkez in Sarajevo, Bosnia, and Nicholas Paphitis in Athens contributed to this report.

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