Heavy Snow Traps Many People In Bosnia

Published February 4, 2012 4:45PM (EST)

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Bosnia's government declared a state of emergency in its capital on Saturday after Sarajevo was paralyzed by snow, and hundreds of people remained trapped in their homes and vehicles throughout the country.

After a weeklong cold snap that has killed scores of people across Eastern Europe, more than three feet (one meter) of snow fell in Sarajevo on Saturday, closing roads and public transportation.

Some neighborhoods reported water shortages, and residents struggled to make it to local shops to shore up on food. Several people said they witnessed fist fights in shops over loaves of bread.

But the crisis also produced camaraderie.

In one area of central Sarajevo, men shoveling the deep snow were being given tea, coffee and hamburgers and meatballs that local women had barbecued. One elderly man who didn't know how to help out stood at an open window of his house playing his clarinet.

Schools have been closed in Bosnia for days because of the tough winter weather, and many travelers have been trapped on the country's roads since Friday evening.

"This is unbelievable. I can't remember snow like this in the past 30 years, said Mirsada Mitrovic, a resident of Sarajevo. "Maybe when I was a child, but since then nothing like this."

The state of emergency order said all schools must remain closed in Sarajevo, that women and children should stay at home, and that men should only report to work if their jobs are essential. It also ordered men who own shovels or vehicles big enough to plow snow to help the city clear the streets, especially ones leading to hospitals.

Meanwhile, efforts were under way to rescue hundreds of people trapped on snow-covered highways.

For example, in a tunnel south of Sarajevo, vehicles carrying about 30 people were stuck in a tunnel and called local radio stations to appeal for help, saying they had children with them and were running out of fuel. But when snow plows arrived on the scene, they also got stuck Saturday, officials said.

In neighboring Montenegro, a three-day snowstorm that has closed roads and the main airport in the capital, Podgorica, claimed its first victim: a 54-year-old man who died when an avalanche hit his car on a road near the town of Kolasin.

Even top government officials were waylaid.

The presidents of Serbia and Croatia, who had attended a summit at a ski resort near Sarajevo on Friday, were unable able to immediately leave the mountain after the meeting.

Officials in Serbia said around 60,000 people throughout the country remain cut off by the snow. Seven people have died so far and one is missing, while 23 people have been rescued in the past 24 hours, Serbian emergency police official Predrag Maric.

But the brutal winter weather didn't stop everyone.

In Moscow, where temperatures sank to minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit (-20 Celsius), tens of thousands of people held another massive anti-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin rally on Saturday.

The weeklong cold snap — Eastern Europe's worst in decades — has killed at least 176 people, many of them homeless people, especially in countries such as Ukraine.

On Saturday, Ukraine's Emergency Ministry said 122 people have died there over the past eight days, including 78 homeless people found on city streets. Nearly 1,600 other residents have been hospitalized with hypothermia and frostbite. Snow and temperatures hovering around 3 degrees Fahrenheit (-16 Celsius) prompted authorities to close schools and colleges, and to cancel bus services.

In Montenegro, police said that more than 100 people, including children on a school trip, were evacuated from the roads blocked by snow and taken to a shelter near Podgorica.

Early Saturday, rescuers reached a minibus with 11 passengers that was trapped for several hours by an avalanche in the Tara River canyon of Montenegro. They were later evacuated by boats over a nearby artificial lake as the roads remained blocked.

With rail services at a standstill across the small nation, Montenegro's government said it plans to hold an emergency session to discuss ways of coping with the cold snap.

In Austria, temperatures in the western city of Salzburg hovered around 7 degrees Fahrenheit (-14 Celsius) on Saturday, and a technical problem at a power plant left 10,000 households without heating on Saturday, Austrian news agency APA reported.

Germany recorded the coldest night of the year, with the thermometer plunging to -16 Fahrenheit (-27 Celsius) in the southern town of Oberstdorf, according to the German Weather Service.

The tough winter weather also has hit cities in southern Europe such as Rome, where snowfalls are rare.

On Saturday, the Italian capital woke up to its second snowfall in two days — four inches (10 centimeters) — and some residents used government-distributed shovels to clear sidewalks and piazzas.

Children, meanwhile, enjoyed another day off school.


AP correspondents contributed to this story from across Europe.

By Salon Staff

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