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Europeans Battle Harsh Winter Weather - 2001-12-26

Europe is shivering through bitter cold as Christmas snow and ice has snarled traffic on German autobahns and piled up snowdrifts in several Eastern European countries. Although weather conditions improved in some areas, there is still concern that the harsh winter conditions will continue through the next few days. The snow chaos has killed several people in Germany and Central and Eastern Europe.

While the fresh snow that fell from Switzerland to Poland probably warmed the hearts of many, emergency workers had to struggle to help those in need.

The problems were especially acute on autobahns outside the German cities of Nuremberg, Munich and Dresden. Some highways were shut down by heavy snow, stranding motorists and raising concerns about the possibility of avalanches in higher elevations.

Slick roads caused scores of accidents, eventually bringing all traffic to a standstill along a 150-kilometer stretch of roadway between Nuremberg and the German capital, Berlin.

German television said many people were blocked inside their cars and that bad weather prevented emergency vehicles from reaching travelers in trouble, including those who ran out of fuel while idling engines to stay warm.

Helicopters were used to reach some of the estimated 100,000 people stuck inside snowbound cars on highways across Germany for up to 20 hours. Stranded motorists huddled in their cars or mingled in schools where the Red Cross set up emergency shelters.

The mountainous areas of Germany's Bavaria and Saxony, and the nearby Czech Republic were hardest hit, but there were also serious problems in other Central and Eastern European countries.

In Hungary, where scores of people have died in recent winters, the Red Cross began distributing food and winter clothing among the homeless, the elderly and families in need and to lonely residents in isolated farm areas.

The Hungarian Ministry of Social and Family Affairs reportedly collected gifts for more than one thousand children living in Budapest's seventeen single mothers' homes and temporary shelters.

Charities have set up free kitchens for pensioners and homeless people in several towns.

Hundreds of villages in remote areas across Eastern Europe were cut off due to snow filled roads and downed utility lines, promoting some countries, including the Czech Republic, to declare a state of emergency in rural areas.

In Bulgaria, where dozens of villages were left without electricity, police reported hundreds of traffic accidents across the country during Christmas, with dozens of people injured. Some 80 traffic accidents were reported in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, within 24 hours due to the bad weather.

In nearby Romania there was concern about villagers in the mountainous Transylvania region. There the problem was extreme, bone-chilling cold - described as "Siberian temperatures."

However, even in the usually warmer Mediterranean regions, cold rain and snow swept the seacoast, reportedly killing several people.

Weather forecasters have warned that the harsh winter weather, which began Thursday in France, could affect many sections of the European continent for several days.