SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Bosnia used helicopters on Sunday to evacuate the sick and deliver food to thousands of people left stranded by its heaviest snowfall ever, while Pope Benedict XVI donned an overcoat to bless the few pilgrims who braved Rome’s unusually cold weather to visit St. Peter's Square.
“The snow is beautiful, but let’s hope spring comes soon,” the pope told the pilgrims, looking out over remnants of Rome’s biggest snowstorm since 1986.
Across Eastern Europe, thousands of people continued to dig out from heavy snow that has fallen during a cold snap that struck more than a week ago and has killed hundreds of people.
In Ukraine, the hardest-hit area, temperatures have fallen as low as minus 33 degrees Fahrenheit. The government said Sunday the country’s death toll now stands at 131, including many homeless people. About 2,300 other Ukrainians have sought treatment for frostbite or hypothermia.
At the other end of Europe, Britain had its first snowfall of the winter on Saturday — up to 6.3 inches — forcing London’s Heathrow Airport, Europe’s busiest, to cancel flights and stranding many drivers overnight on highways. Stansted, Birmingham and Luton airports suspended operations overnight as snow piled up on runways, but they resumed operations Sunday.
Still, Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip, managed to brave the cold and snow to attend a service at West Newton Church on her Sandringham Estate in eastern England on Sunday.
The 85-year-old monarch marks 60 years on the throne on Monday, and her Diamond Jubilee anniversary will be marked by a series of regional, national and international events throughout 2012.
In Bosnia, more than 100 remote villages have been cut off by 6½ feet of snow in the mountains. More than 3 feet fell in Sarajevo, the capital, where a state of emergency has been declared.
Three helicopters cruised over eastern Bosnia on Sunday, delivering food and picking up people who needed evacuation. Sarajevo has been paralyzed since Friday evening, and authorities have ordered all schools closed. Residents have volunteered to remove snow and ice from the trams that are stuck along the city’s tracks.
In neighboring Serbia, officials said 70,000 people remain cut off. So far, 32 municipalities throughout the country have introduced emergency measures, said senior emergency official Predrag Maric. Later Sunday, Serbia’s emergency board was to meet to discuss the crisis.
In Montenegro, the north of the country remained cut off, although emergency crews have managed to clear some of the blocked roads.
The situation also had improved somewhat in Croatia, where bus traffic toward the coast resumed, even as snow slowed traffic throughout the country. In the coastal town of Split, where authorities declared emergency measures, dozens of people sought medical help for injuries sustained on ice and snow. Snow is extremely rare in Split, which is on the Adriatic coast.
Snow also has fallen on Spain’s Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean.
In Rome, the pope managed to keep his Sunday appointment at the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter's Square, still covered with snow from the day before. Bundled up in a white overcoat, the pope blessed an unusually small crowd of pilgrims.
Meanwhile, Rome’s mayor is being criticized for the lack of snow plows and salters. But the city counters that it can’t spend millions of euros on equipment that might not be used in decades.