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Bad Weather Wreaks Havoc in Europe, Mediterranean - 2004-01-23

Bad weather in the eastern Mediterranean has forced the closure of key shipping routes. The Suez Canal was brought to a halt due to strong winds and heavy seas. And, in a rare event, Rome is under snow.

Strong winds, heavy seas and snowstorms have been seriously affecting shipping routes in the eastern Mediterranean. Weather conditions are being described as atrocious in the area, with a number of ports deciding to close.

A Greek cargo ship with 17 crew members sank west of Crete Friday in gale force winds and rough seas.

Turkish and Egyptian authorities were forced to close key shipping routes because of the bad weather conditions. The Suez Canal was also brought to a halt.

In some European countries, heavy snowfalls caused traffic chaos, and power cuts have been reported in Romania and Bulgaria.

Freezing temperatures and snow, blamed on a frigid front from northern Europe, were reported in many Italian cities, including Rome and Venice. Snow is a rare sight in the Italian capital.

Lieutenant Colonel Luigi Gentile, of the Italian defense department's meteorological office, explains the present weather pattern.

He says a depression is bringing in cold air from northern Europe to the central and eastern Mediterranean. He says the strong cold air is responsible for the winds and polar temperatures.

Colonel Gentile said the weather is likely to improve in Italy, but the cold will persist in the eastern Mediterranean for the next few days.