Europe freezes: Death toll rises to 550; 140,000 people trapped by snow

This is no mere cold snap. There is tragedy unfolding in Europe daily since January, thanks to extreme cold and snow. Heavy snow and record cold continue to slam countries from the UK to Italy, Bulgaria and Russia. Even Northern Africa is shoveling snow. Across Europe, snow drifts reaching above the rooftops have kept tens of thousands of villagers prisoners in their own homes.

They are desperate in Montenegro, where the heaviest snow in 63 years has sealed off hundreds of villages, literally trapping thousands of residents in their homes. The snow and cold there has shut down railroads and roads and even closed the main airport. Montenegro's capital of Podgorica was brought to a standstill by snow 20 inches (50cm) deep, a 50-year record, closing the city's airport and halting rail services to Serbia because of an avalanche. Officials said this is the most amount of snow they've seen here since 1949.

In Turkey, more than 2,000 roads are blocked by heavy snows. Authorities said an estimated 30,000 villagers were still cut off in Romania, and more than 110,000 in the Balkan countries, including 60,000 in Montenegro, nearly 10 percent of the population.

Meteorologists in Belgium said the country had recorded its longest cold snap in 70 years, with temperatures in Brussels' suburbs remaining below zero for 13 consecutive days.

In neighboring Kosovo, an avalanche killed at least people in a southern mountain village and left nine others trapped in several houses under 30 feet of snow. Eight more people were reported to have died in Romania, taking the toll for the country to 65, three in Serbia, one in the Czech Republic and one in Austria. Many of the dead across Europe are homeless. Others are elderly, who have shut off their heat to help combat rising electric bills.

One of Europe's busiest waterways is shut down. The Danube River runs through Germany, Austria, Hungary and Romania, among other countries. It is completely frozen. Boat traffic has been unable to move for several weeks now. The part of the Danube that flows through Bulgaria froze over for the first time in 27 years. The Sea of Azov, a large offshoot of the Black Sea, separates Russia from the Ukraine. It, too, is frozen over thanks to frequent temperatures below zero. More than 100 shipping vessels are trapped in the icy waters, unable to move.

Hundreds of barns in Italy have collapsed due to the heavy wait of snow. Thousands of farm animals have perished as a result. Serbia is cutting power in desperate bid to prevent a collapse of national electricity grid.
In Turkey, survivors of last year's major earthquakes must walk several blocks in the blinding snow and cold to reach toilet facilities.

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