Paris, Feb 28, 2018 (AFP) - School was cancelled across swathes of Europe on Wednesday as a blast of Siberian weather dubbed the "Beast from the East" kept the mercury far below zero. The cold snap has killed at least 41 people since Friday, including 18 in Poland, six in the Czech Republic and five in Lithuania. Homeless people account for many of the dead, and cities across Europe have been racing to open emergency shelters to protect people sleeping rough. In Germany, the national homeless association on Wednesday urged shelters to open during the day and not just at night. "You can die of cold during the day too," its chief Werena Rosenke warned. Authorities are also urging people to look out for elderly relatives and neighbours after a French woman in her nineties was found frozen to death outside her retirement home. In Paris, some 50 regional lawmakers were to spend Wednesday night on the streets to protest the "denial of dignity" suffered by those without roofs over their heads. And in the northern port of Calais, authorities were launching emergency plans to shelter migrants who camp out near the coast hoping to stow away on trucks bound for Britain. Schools were shut across Kosovo, western Bosnia and much of Albania, as well as parts of Britain, Italy and Portugal. Temperatures had plunged below -20 Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit) overnight in numerous parts of Europe -- even hitting -36C in Glattalp, 1,850 metres (6,000 feet) above sea level in the Swiss mountains. Ahead of a predicted thaw towards the end of the week, both Belgium and Switzerland marked their coldest night of the winter so far.
Europe's cold snap comes as the Arctic experiences record high temperatures, prompting scientists to ask if global warming may be playing a role in turning things upside down. Dubbed the "Siberian bear" by the Dutch and the "snow cannon" by Swedes, the icy blast has played havoc with transport networks. Swedish authorities urged drivers in parts of the south to leave their cars at home, while British Airways was running a reduced service from London Heathrow on Wednesday. Even in the usually-mild south of France, palm-lined beachfronts in Nice, Biarritz and Corsica have been blanketed in snow. In Ireland, anxious residents were hoarding bread ahead of the arrival of a storm Thursday which is expected to cause the heaviest snowfall in decades. "It's fair to say the people of Ferrybank and Slieverue are taking the #Beastfromtheeast serious," said one Twitter post alongside a picture of empty supermarket shelves.
Kosovo announced restrictions on electricity usage lasting between one and three hours, due to a surge in power consumption mirrored across Europe as people turn up the thermostat. In the Netherlands, Amsterdam residents are hoping to be able to skate on the city's famed canals this weekend, with some areas already closed to boats to allow the ice to solidify. Even professionals are feeling the chill. In Amstetten in northwest Austria which is hosting international championships of the ice stock sport -- similar to curling -- organisers moved the opening ceremony inside due to the cold. Austrians were reserving particular sympathy for Ludwig Rasser and Norbert Daxbacher, two employees at the Sonnblick weather station 3,109 metres above sea level. Handed the honour of having the "coldest job in Austria" by the Oesterreich tabloid, Rasser and Daxbacher are charged with heading out to measure the temperature three times a day. The process takes an hour in temperatures of -32C -- which "with the windchill feels like -60," said Rasser.