Deep freeze tightens grip across Europe

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Media captionThe BBC's Ros Atkins presents a picture of the situation across Europe

The Arctic conditions sweeping Europe have tightened their grip, with more deaths reported in Poland and Ukraine, taking the toll to well over 200.

Polish authorities said nine people had died in the last 24 hours.

An EU official denied there was an emergency as a result of a drop in Russian gas supplies to member states.

But Italy's economic development minister described the situation in the country - where some 60,000 households are without power - as "critical".

Overnight in Poland temperatures reportedly dropped to beneath -30C.

Ukraine's government has said that the country's death toll stands at least 130.

Many of those who died from hypothermia there were homeless people living on the streets, officials said.

In parts of Italy, temperatures dropped to their lowest levels for years, with -10C recorded in Milan and heavy snow closing Rome's Colosseum and the Roman Forum.

A total of 17 people have died since the plunging temperatures began in Italy, with eight dead on Sunday alone.

Economic Development Minister Corrado Passera said gas flows were being closely monitored after demand in the country reached all-time highs following a sixth straight day of limited gas supplies from Russia.

'Cold wave'

The Tuscan towns of Arezzo and Siena - where some 36,000 households have been without power for days - said they were considering taking legal action against Italian power supplier ENI.

Image caption Some tourist attractions in the Italian capital have been closed due to snow

The firm's chief Paolo Scaroni said they were importing extra gas from Algeria and northern Europe to make up the shortfall.

"We are expecting another cold wave in Russia and we don't know how Gazprom will behave on Thursday and Friday," Mr Scaroni said, according to Agence France Presse.

EU energy spokeswoman Marlene Holzner said that despite a decrease in gas deliveries in Poland, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece and Italy, "it's not a situation of emergency yet".

The extreme weather has also affected central and eastern Europe's remote villages and hamlets.

In southern Bulgaria, five people were reported to have been drowned as torrential rains broke a dam wall and submerged the village of Biser beneath 2.5m (8ft) of icy water, AFP reports.

"People are in panic. Ninety per cent of the village is underwater," mayor Mihail Liskov told Bulgarian radio.

Many of the village's 800 trapped residents will have to be rescued by helicopter or boat.

Schools shut

In Bosnia-Hercegovina, hundreds of villages have been cut off behind snowed-in roads and avalanches and authorities have been using helicopters to evacuate the sick and deliver food.

Authorities said they have had no contact for 72 hours with about 120 people in the central village of Zijemlja, where residents have no electricity or phone lines, AP reports.

The Serbian government declared an emergency late on Sunday, saying the intense snowfall had cut off some 70,000 people. All primary schools and high schools were shut down for a week to save power and keep children safe.

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Media captionBBC Weather's Helen Willetts explains what is causing the cold conditions

Meanwhile, some were celebrating the icy conditions.

Wine-makers in the south-east of the Czech Republic had been waiting for the weather to dip beneath -7C to be able to harvest frozen grapes for their ice wine.

Snow dusted the palm-trees in the Algerian capital, Algiers, the first time many local recalled snow falling there for eight years.

In the Netherlands, speed-skaters are hoping that freezing conditions continue so they are able to hold an ice-skating marathon along a 125-mile (200k) network of canals connecting 11 cities in the country's Friesland Province.

The Eleven Cities Tour race has only been held 15 times since it was first officially organised in 1909, AP reports.

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