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Severe Winter Weather Pounds Central, Eastern Europe - 2002-01-03


Areas of Central and Eastern Europe are experiencing what have been described as the worst blizzards in 15 years. Several countries are trying to battle snowstorms and winter conditions that have killed more than a dozen people in recent days.

Millions of residents in snow-covered Central and Eastern Europe have, so far, not experienced a happy new year.

Scores of people have died in avalanches in several skiing resorts in the Alps as well as Poland and Slovakia.

Slovakia's President Rudolf Schuster was slightly injured, when cars in his motorcade reportedly were involved in a motorway pile-up in a snow storm.

Days of unusual heavy snowfall have also paralyzed several regions in the neighboring Czech Republic. Officials in Prague declared about a third of the country a disaster area, and several border crossings with Germany and Poland have been closed.

In Poland, southern regions have been among the worst affected, with many roads declared impassable since the New Year celebrations. When drivers became stranded, rescue officials put the southern mountain areas on maximum avalanche alert. Snow slides killed at least five in recent days.

Bad weather was forecast to continue across much of Poland, and the temperatures were expected to plunge to -18 Celsius.

There is also serious concern about the situation in the Balkans, and especially in Albania, one of Europe's poorest countries.

In that small Balkan nation, heavy snow left about 150,000 villagers completely cut off on New Year's Eve. The NATO-led peacekeeping mission in neighboring Kosovo, KFOR, delivered food to the effected areas, after an appeal from Albanian authorities.

And once the snows melt there could be more problems - Hungary is preparing for possible serious flooding, as it suffers under what has been described by experts as the region's worst blizzards in 15-years.

The cold front has reached as far as Russia, where plunging temperatures killed 10-people in Moscow. Snow even fell on palm trees along Russia's Black Sea coast and President Vladimir Putin's favorite holiday spot. Bad weather has also wreaked havoc in Germany and France.

And as people in Central and Eastern European countries try to dug their way out of snowdrifts, weather experts have given no indications that the cold weather will end soon enough to avoid more problems across the region.

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