VIENNA, Austria – This week, heavy snowfall from the worst winter in over 30 years battered parts of Europe, causing fatal avalanches, major traffic and power disruptions and leaving more than 21 people dead across the continent.
On Friday, several parts of Europe were brought to a standstill as extreme winter storms dumped up to two metres of snowfall in several regions.
Several passengers were stranded as flights and trains in many countries were cancelled.
Motorists in various parts of Europe too were impacted as heavy snow made driving conditions perilous.
Schools and several resorts across continental Europe were shut as heavy snow cut off remote mountain villages and hit power supplies.
Parts of Europe declared a state of emergency as the death toll from weather related incidents rose to 21 on Saturday.
With meteorologists warning of more snow over the weekend, Germany and Austria sought assistance from the army, which brought in tanks and troops to rescue citizens from neck-deep snow.
On Saturday, forecasters said that more snow is expected to batter central and northern Europe until the middle of next week and .
Weather experts also announced that avalanche warnings across the region were now at critical levels.
Bulgaria: Snowboarders killed
Late on Friday, authorities in Bulgaria said that two snowboarders had died in a brutal avalanche.
According to a statement released by the Bulgarian Red Cross, the bodies of two snowboarders was found on Friday afternoon, in the Pirin Mountains in the southwest of the country.
The Red Cross noted that the snowboarders had ignored the warnings and weather alerts issued by local authorities after conditions worsened in the area.
The statement noted that the two snowboarders had themselves caused the avalanche.
Albania: Soldiers assist emergency workers
In Albania, authorities said that nearly 2,000 soldiers had been deployed to assist in the nationwide rescue effort as weather conditions worsened at the end of the week.
Authorities have said that a large-scale emergency operation is underway to rescue those trapped in the snow.
Emergency workers are also engaged in an operation to clear the roads blanketed by snow, in a bid to reach blocked rural areas.
Several schools in the country remained closed.
A snow-related death was reported in the country on Friday.
Albania’s Energy Ministry released a statement confirming that a power company employee had suffered a heart attack while repairing damaged supply lines.
Serbia: Mountain villages cut off
Authorities in Serbia announced that several municipalities in the southwest of the country had introduced emergency measures.
A report in Serbia’s state TV said that emergency measures were introduced as snow piling up on the roads had sealed off mountain villages in the country.
Officials also said that most schools were closed down and rescue operations were underway to help residents trapped due to the snow.
Authorities also said that strong winds in many parts of the country had created occasional snowdrifts, which had complicated the situation.
Montenegro: Coldest January in decades
Meteorologists in Montenegro announced this week that the country was witnessing its coldest January in decades.
Montenegrin state TV quoted Meteorologist Dragan Buric as saying that the first ten days of January have been among the coldest in the country in decades.
Buric reportedly said, “We have snow in January the capital city (Podgorica) for the first time in nine years.”
Further, authorities in Montenegro said that emergency workers had managed to restore electricity to three towns on the Adriatic coast after a snowstorm hit a key power distribution line cutting power supplies this week.
Germany, Austria, Switzerland: Death and disruption from fatal avalanches
As the week came to an end, several cities in Germany and Austria had declared a state of emergency after fatal avalanches caused major disruption across the region.
In Austria, government authorities said that military helicopters flew a group of 66 German teenagers out of a mountain guest house on Friday.
The group of German teenagers were reportedly stuck in the central Austrian mountain guest house for several days.
According to Austrian meteorologist Alexander Radlherr, “Such quantities of snow above 800m altitude only happen once every 30 to 100 years.”
Officials said that the snow is up to 10ft (3m) deep in parts of the country.
So far, seven people have died in the country and two hikers went missing seven days back.
On Sunday, three German skiers were found dead overnight and a fourth was reported missing after they were swept away in an avalanche near the Austrian ski resort of Lech am Arlberg.
Meanwhile, in Germany, major chaos was reported after airlines cancelled hundreds of flights.
German news agency DPA reported that around 120 flights were cancelled at the Frankfurt Airport, while 90 flights were cancelled at the Munich Airport on Friday.
The cancellations were related to concerns about snowing the worsening weather in the region.
In Germany’s Chemnitz city, heavy snowfall forced the cancellation of all burials planned at the municipal cemetery through Monday.
On Saturday, a nine-year-old boy was killed in the country’s southern state of Bavaria after a tree collapsed under the weight of snow.
Another incident was reported in the country the same day after a 47-year-old snowplough driver was killed after his vehicle toppled into an icy river.
So far, five Bavarian districts have reportedly declared a state of emergency.
Three people suffered injuries after a 1,000ft-wide avalanche ploughed through the front of Hotel Santis in Schwagalp in eastern Switzerland.
The avalanche slammed into the restaurant around 4.30 pm on Thursday, burying dozens of cars outside and leaving three hotel guests injured.
According to local reports, the avalanche had been 300m (984ft) wide when it came down the nearby mountain pass.