By Kimberly Arsenault
Contributor, EDM Digest
A recent cold snap that started last week and moved across Eastern Europe has resulted in the deaths of at least 61 people, with one-third of all deaths occurring in Poland. Over much of the Eastern European region, heavy snow was accompanied by frigid temperatures, with some regions reaching lows of -22 C, with temporary water and power outages. Several rural areas were completely cut off from assistance due to heavy snows, including villages in the south of Serbia, while army helicopters in Albania worked to distribute aid throughout its mountain regions.
For the first time in 32 years, the Albanian city of Saranda saw snow, and a homeless man died in Korca. The hardest hit in all countries were the homeless, migrants, and the elderly, along with refugees living in tents on the Greek island of Lesbos. Greek officials, responding to intense criticism from aid agencies, assisted refugees by having them move to vacant hotel rooms until the worst of the snow passed from the area. In Athens, authorities opened at least 10 heated shelters as snow fell in the area. Flights were grounded in Thessaloniki, and Greece declared a state of emergency in several areas. Poland was hit especially hard in its northern regions, with 20 people having died as a result of the cold.
Romania, Croatia, and Serbia halted traffic on the Danube due to weather in the hopes of preventing more deaths from the icy conditions. In the hardest hit village in the south of Serbia, Duga Poljana, a father and son died due to the frigid temperatures. A total of three deaths occurred in Macedonia, one of whom was a homeless man.
Dangerous Smog Levels
Another problem with the frigid temperatures comes from the decreased air quality levels. Several southern cities closed schools as smog levels reached alarmingly high levels. The Polish cities of Rybnik, Czestochowa, and Katowice - low-lying industrial areas - were the worst affected locations from high smog levels. The alarmingly low air quality levels resulted from the burning of substandard fuels in poor quality heaters in private homes. Fuels burned included coal, mud, waste, and plastics leading to the poor air quality alerts and forcing school closures.
Barbara Toczko, an air monitoring expert, suggested that to reduce the burning of poor quality fuels, officials in smog impacted regions should assist residents with acquiring clean fuel burning heaters that ensure low-level emissions.