WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland deployed troops and snow ploughs on Wednesday after snow and powerful winds cut off power supplies to as many as 700,000 people, felled trees and disrupted air and road traffic.
High winds whipped up huge waves along the Baltic coast, damaging the pier at the seaside resort of Sopot and forcing the evacuation of families from a river island threatened by rising water levels.
“The snow is continuing to fall all the time. The situation is fast-moving. All our brigades are out in the field, trying to deal with the situation,” Katarzyna Burda-Mazurek, a spokeswoman for Poland’s PGE power company, told the PAP state news agency.
Tens of thousands of Ukrainians were also without electricity as wind and snow damaged power lines and generators, the emergencies ministry in Kiev said.
Ukrainians also suffered freezing temperatures at home as authorities who control the heating to entire apartment blocks had not yet turned it on.
Power outages in western Ukraine interrupted Russian oil supplies to Europe through a Ukrainian part of the Druzhba pipeline, though officials from both countries said pumping should restart within 24 hours.
Austria’s Alps recorded the biggest October snowfalls in 25 years, with as much as 75 centimetres in the mountainous regions around Salzburg and up to 40 centimetres in the region bordering Switzerland.
The train link to Switzerland via the Arlberg was shut for hours after trees crashed onto tracks under the snow’s weight. Tyrol’s mountain rescue service issued the first avalanche warning of the season.
In Poland, Prime Minister Donald Tusk told Poles emergency services were doing their best but warned of more snow to come.
“I would like to assure you that the situation, very sad and dramatic though it may be for those temporarily without electricity, is under control,” he told a news conference.
“This situation may continue for more than 10 hours. The weather forecasts are not good for the evening and the night but after that the situation will start to improve.”
The snowfall, mixed with rain in many places, and the winds cut off electricity to as many as 700,000 people, mostly in central and northern Poland, Polish television said.
Around a dozen flights bound for Warsaw were redirected to other Polish cities after snow prevented aircraft from landing. Among those delayed by the weather was visiting Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak.
Authorities evacuated eight families from Nowakowska island in the river Elblag near the Baltic in northern Poland. All 400 islanders were expected to leave their homes in coming hours.
The mountains of southern Poland saw especially heavy snowfall and temperatures plunged to minus 11 degrees Celsius.
Poland’s Institute of Meterology and Water Management said much of the country would experience subzero temperatures at night over the next few days but said the weather would gradually improve from Sunday.
Additional reporting by Boris Groendahl in Vienna and Sabina Zawadzki in Kiev; Writing by Gareth Jones; Editing by Louise Ireland