BELGRADE, Serbia — Overwhelmed by record snow and harsh temperatures, Serbia and Bosnia closed down schools and struggled to continue public transport and garbage pick-up Monday, as authorities focused on trying to help thousands trapped in the region's remote mountain villages.
Europeans across the continent were continuing to dig out from heavy snow after a week of bitter cold in which the death toll, mostly homeless people, continues to rise into the hundreds. Temperatures have fallen as low as minus 33 Fahrenheit (minus 36 Celsius) in Ukraine, the hardest-hit country.
The big freeze has caused traffic chaos throughout Europe, blocking roads, and shutting down airports from the U.K. to Russia.
But it has also offered opportunities for snowy fun: Ice skaters in the Netherlands were hopeful they could stage a race that hasn't happened in more than a decade; children in Rome and along the usually temperate Adriatic coast in Croatia frolicked in rare snow; and Bosnians in the capital, Sarajevo, spontaneously organized a winter "Olympics" in which they boarded down main streets and leapt out of windows into deep snow banks.
The Serbian government late on Sunday declared an emergency situation, saying the intense snowfall has jeopardized normal functioning. Emergency officials said that 70,000 people were cut off by the heavy snow.
"I hope the emergency measures will lead to better functioning of the rescue efforts," said emergency official Goran Nikolic.
They included shutting down all primary schools and high schools for a week to save power and keep children safe. Thrilled, hundreds of kids filled the parks in the capital, Belgrade, sliding and making snow angels.
In Bosnia, hundreds of villages are cut off behind snowed-in roads and avalanches and authorities were using helicopters to evacuate the sick and deliver food. Authorities said they have had no contact for 72 hours with about 120 people in the central village of Zijemlja, where residents have no electricity or phone lines.
"There are several small hamlets with children and elderly people — and we are not able to help them," said Radovan Palavstra, mayor of the nearby city of East Mostar.
Emergency official Milimir Doder said his teams must clear 20 kilometers (12 miles) of road before they can get to the village.
In the capital, Sarajevo, thousands of people trudged to work on Monday, with only occasional buses braving the deep snow. Volunteers, meanwhile, cleared tram lines themselves.
Authorities told residents to keep their trash on their balconies because no one would be able to pick it up before the city streets are cleared, which could take a few days.
Young people in several neighborhoods boarded down snow-covered streets or cruised the main street towed behind cars on skis. Others competed with videos on YouTube to show the craziest jump into the snow from second floor apartments — most of them wearing only bathing suits. In one neighborhood, residents mocked local politicians by trying to build the ugliest snowman in their likenesses.
In Poland, the Interior Ministry reported Monday that nine people died of hypothermia over the past 24 hours. Two elderly people were found frozen in Serbia and Bosnia, and Croatia reported 4 snow-related deaths.
Ukraine's government said on Sunday the country's death toll now stands at 131, including many homeless people. About 2,300 other Ukrainians have sought treatment for frostbite or hypothermia.
In the Netherlands, however, the deep freeze means the country's almost mythical "Eleven Cities Tour" ice skating marathon could be staged later this month for the first time in 15 years, organizers said Monday.Comment on this story
The race, held along a 125-mile (200-kilometer) network of canals connecting 11 towns and cities in Friesland province, would cause a national frenzy, drawing thousands of participants and more than a million spectators. It was last held in 1997.
The national weather service forecasts freezing temperatures at least through Friday, fueling hopes.
Aida Cerkez in Sarajevo, Bosnia, and Mike Corder in Amsterdam contributed to this report.