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Serbia: 11,000 trapped in remote villages by snow

By Monika Scislowska

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Feb. 2 2012 3:40 p.m. MST

A passenger boat sails across the bay at sunrise in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol in the Crimea, Ukraine, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012. Weather remains cold in the Crimea with temperature dropping to minus 17 C (1.4 F).

Andrew Lubimov, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

BELGRADE, Serbia — At least 11,000 villagers have been trapped by heavy snow and blizzards in Serbia's mountains, authorities said Thursday, as the death toll from Eastern Europe's weeklong deep freeze rose to 123, many of them homeless people.

The harshest winter in decades has seen temperatures in some regions dropping to minus 30 C (minus 22 F) and below, and has caused power outages, traffic chaos and the widespread closure of schools, nurseries and airports.

The stranded in Serbia are stuck in some 6,500 homes in remote areas that cannot be reached due to icy, snow-clogged roads with banks reaching up to 5 meters (16 feet). Emergency crews were pressing hard to try to clear the snow to deliver badly needed supplies, and helicopters were dispatched to some particularly remote areas in Serbia and neighboring Bosnia.

On Bosnia's Mt. Romanija, near Sarajevo, a chopper thumped down in the small hamlet of Ozerkovici, where a single nun lives in a Serb Christian Orthodox monastery surrounded by just a few village residents.

Wrapped tight in a black jacket and a scarf, Sister Justina greeted aid workers at her monastery: "I live alone here," she said, but noted "God will help me."

In Serbia, relief efforts are concentrated on evacuating the sick, on food delivery and gasoline distribution.

"We are trying everything to unblock the roads since more snow and blizzards are expected in the coming days," Serbian emergency police official Predrag Maric told The Associated Press.

He said "the most dramatic" situation is near Serbia's southwestern town of Sijenica, where it has been freezing cold or snowing for 26 days, and diesel fuel supplies used by snowplows are running low.

Most people in the villages will have enough food supplies stored up for the winter, Maric said, but he warned those who are stranded not to try to go anywhere on their own and to call emergency services if they need help.

Newly reported deaths on Thursday because of the cold included 20 in Ukraine, nine in Poland, eight in Romania, and one more each in Serbia and the Czech Republic. In Western Europe, one person was reported dead in Germany and one in Italy.

Polish government spokeswoman Malgorzata Wozniak said her country's victims were mostly homeless people under the influence of alcohol who had sought shelter in unheated buildings. Officials appealed to the public to quickly help anyone they saw in need and homeless shelters were full.

In Warsaw, where the temperature Wednesday night was minus 22 C (minus 8 F), the narrow corridors of the Monar homeless shelter were filled with drying washing, and the residents crammed into a small dining room with bowls of soup.

Martyna, pregnant and unemployed, said she was grateful to find a place there after her family rejected her and her partner.

"This is the only safe place for me, where I can live and hide — from this sudden cold, too," the 22-year-old said. "I have nowhere else to go." She refused to give her last name, saying she didn't want anyone to know she was staying there.

Brothers Robert, 32, and Wieslaw, 27, arrived last week from Inowroclaw, in central Poland, saying they were promised full-time jobs that never materialized. They would have been left in the cold, but someone told them to go to the center, which currently houses 278 people.

"We don't have to worry anymore where we will spend the night," said Wieslaw.

"It is so cold outside that you don't want to leave here," his brother agreed.

Firefighters in Poland say that eleven people have died since Friday from asphyxiation with carbon monoxide, when they were using charcoal heaters to warm their homes.

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