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Winter Tightens Icy Grip Across Europe


A boat caught in ice in Hamburg, northern Germany, Feb. 8, 2012.

A boat caught in ice in Hamburg, northern Germany, Feb. 8, 2012.

A brutal cold front blamed for hundreds of deaths across Europe is threatening to linger even longer.

High winds whipped across Russia's Krasnodar region Wednesday, churning water in the port city of Novorossiysk, tearing apart buildings and causing some roofs to collapse. Heavy snow also blanketed the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, freezing roads and lakes.

Officials say the death toll across Europe has now climbed to more than 400 people, with new fatalities being reported in central and Eastern Europe. The French news agency said Russian officials on Wednesday raised their death toll to more than 100, with 44 new deaths blamed on the cold since the start of the month.

As parts of Europe issue emergency declarations, forecasters warn it could be several weeks before the vicious cold snap departs. Omar Baddour with the World Meteorological Organization said he expects the sub-zero temperatures to start warming next week. Baddour added it could take until the end of the month for Europe to see a significant change.

Hundreds of villages, and tens of thousands of people, have been cut off from supplies as snow continues to pile up. Ice has also been a problem, clogging rivers and shutting down key ports. The French news agency said Bosnian authorities started using helicopters to carry needed supplies to isolated hamlets near Mostar and Kalinovic.

Italy has also been hit with heavy snow and at the Vatican Wednesday, Pope Benedict prayed for victims of the bitter cold.

"In the past weeks a wave of cold weather and ice have battered parts of Europe, bringing with it grave disruptions and heavy damage," he said. "I wish to express my proximity to all the people affected by such adverse weather conditions and invite you to pray for the victims and their families. At the same time I call for solidarity So that the people tested by such tragic events may be helped with generosity.''

One of the hardest hit countries has been Ukraine, where temperatures have fallen below minus 30 degrees Celsius. Officials the blame the cold for at least 135 deaths. Many of the victims were homeless.

Some European officials have warned that even warmer temperatures may bring little relief, instead causing more damage and death as melting snow causes rivers to flood their banks.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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