Rescue under way as European cold snap kills 79

A Ukrainian man, covered with plastic sheeting to form a tent for protection from the wind and cold, fishes through an ice hole on the Dnipro river outside Cherkasy, central Ukraine. The death toll from a severe cold spell in Eastern Europe rose to 71 Wednesday, most of them homeless people. Temperatures dropped to minus 26.5 F in some regions, causing power outages and traffic chaos and prompting authorities to close schools and nurseries. AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky

KIEV, Ukraine - The death toll from a severe cold spell in Eastern Europe rose to 79 Wednesday, most of the dead homeless people.

Temperatures dropped to minus 26.5 F in some regions, causing power outages and traffic chaos and prompting authorities to close schools and nurseries.

The weather is so cold that some areas of the Black Sea have frozen near the Romanian coastline, and rare snowfalls have occurred on islands in the Adriatic Sea in Croatia.

Sub-zero temps slam Europe, more than 50 dead

Rescue helicopters are airlifting supplies and evacuating dozens of people from snow-covered villages in Serbia and Bosnia.

Ukraine alone reported 43 deaths. The Emergency Situations Ministry said Wednesday that 28 people were found dead on the streets, eight died in hospitals and seven in their homes. Over 720 others were hospitalized with hypothermia and frostbite.

Authorities have deployed over 1,730 heating shelters across the country where the homeless people can get warm and eat hot food, including boiled potatoes, pork fat (a traditional Ukrainian dish), tea and coffee.

Ukraine's 1+1 channel broadcast footage of a man being treated for frostbite in his toes, which had turned completely black.

"I drank and fell asleep on the bench. I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn't feel my feet," the unidentified man said from a hospital bed.

Hospitals were told not to discharge homeless patients even if their treatment was finished to save them from the cold, said Svitlana Tikhonenko, spokeswoman for the Health Ministry.

"Unfortunately, people continue to die, but we are taking all the measures to prevent it," Tikhonenko said.

Some experts suggested the high death toll from the cold was linked to authorities' unwillingness and incompetence in dealing with the homeless.

Pavlo Rozenko, an expert on social policy with the Kiev-based Razumkov Center, said Ukrainian authorities suffer from the Soviet legacy of viewing the homeless as alcoholics, drug addicts and do-nothings who need to be punished and locked away from society instead of helped.

"The country doesn't know yet how to take care of its homeless," Rozenko said.

Cold deaths were also reported in Poland, Romania, Serbia and Bulgaria.

In Russia, only one death in Moscow was attributed to the cold, even though temperatures fell to minus 6 F. The Russian Emergencies Ministry is not reporting deaths across the country yet.

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