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Thursday, December 18, 1997 Published at 07:42 GMT


Freeze proves fatal in Eastern Europe
image: [ Red Square: Moscow is experiencing the lowest mid-December temperatures ever recorded ]
Red Square: Moscow is experiencing the lowest mid-December temperatures ever recorded

Eastern Europe is struggling to cope with a sudden wave of severe freezing weather.

The cold has claimed the lives of eleven people in Poland and seven in Bucharest, the Romanian capital. A further four died in Bulgaria.

[ image: Charities hand out emergency supplies to the homeless]
Charities hand out emergency supplies to the homeless
At least five people have died in Moscow where mid-December temperatures are the coldest since records began in 1882.

Forty-two people were admitted to hospital in Moscow, suffering from hypothermia and frostbite.

Temperatures are down to minus 30 degrees in some parts of the city and forecasters say there's worse to come.

Several towns and cities in western Russia are in chaos due to temperatures of minus 45 degrees. A state of emergency was declared in the Donbass coal mining region in Ukraine.

[ image: Frozen over: Moscow River]
Frozen over: Moscow River
The Moscow River is completely frozen, pipes have burst all over the city and one block of flats literally cracked open during the night.

The fire brigade has had to fight a plague of fires as people struggle to keep out the frost.

Some of those worst hit by the extreme temperatures are the thousands of people who live on Moscow's icy streets. Charities hand out bread and soup to the homeless, but their efforts only go a small way to solving the problem.

Dozens of people die every winter after falling asleep in the sub-zero temperatures outside. The city authorities say they are not taking special measures as no one has any need to live on the street.

[ image: Standstill: cars immobilised by the cold]
Standstill: cars immobilised by the cold
Schools have told children aged between six and 10 that they can start their holidays early.

However, the ferocious freeze has had a positive effect on one thing in the city - traffic congestion. Many vehicles are at a standstill as car batteries are simply unable to cope.

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