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Killer freeze sweeps eastern Europe

Heavy snow and a severe cold snap have killed at least 36 people across eastern Europe as schools closed, roads became impassible and power supplies were cut.

As temperatures dropped to around minus 20C, authorities opened emergency shelters and urged people to be careful and remain indoors.

Ukraine's Emergency Situations Ministry said 18 people died of hypothermia in recent days and nearly 500 people sought medical help for frostbite and hypothermia in just three days last week.

Temperatures in some regions plunged to minus 16C during the day and minus 23C during the night. At least 10 people have frozen to death in Poland since Friday as the cold reached minus 26C.

Poland's Interior Ministry said that elderly people and the homeless were among the dead and police were checking unheated empty buildings.

Until Friday, Poland had been having a mild winter with little snow and temperatures just below the freezing mark.

In central Serbia, three people died and two more were missing and 14 districts across the country were under emergency plans. Efforts to clear roads of snow were hampered by strong winds and dozens of towns faced power cuts.

One woman froze to death in a snowstorm in a central village, while two elderly men were found dead, one in the snow outside his home. Further south, emergency workers are searching for two men in their 70s who are feared dead.

In neighbouring Bulgaria, a 57-year-old man froze to death in a north-western village and emergency "code orange" was declared in 25 of the country's 28 districts. In the capital of Sofia, authorities set up rescue spots where hot tea was distributed and placed homeless people in emergency shelters.

In the Czech capital of Prague, city authorities announced plans to set up tents for the estimated 3,000 homeless people. Freezing temperatures also damaged train tracks, slowing rail traffic.

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