SOFIA, Bulgaria -- A bitterly cold winter storm gripped parts of Europe on Thursday, leaving at least three sailors dead in the sinking of a ship and thousands stranded at airports, on snowy mountain roads and in remote villages.
In northeastern Bulgaria, authorities declared a state of emergency, with the army called in to help civil defense authorities clear roads and reach stranded motorists.
A cold spell also caused problems in neighboring Romania, where Bucharest's two main airports were closed. Parts of Turkey and Greece, as well as Western Europe, were also affected. Some 311 Bulgarian villages were left without electricity and dozens were cut off without food supplies or fresh water, authorities said. The northern Danube municipality of Ruse declared a state of emergency after snow blocked many roads, said Andrei Ivanov, chief of the Balkan country's civil defense service.
Temperatures fell to minus 15 degrees Celsius (5 Fahrenheit), while snow drifts reached two meters (more than six feet) in parts of the country. Hundreds of motorists were trapped on mountain roads.
At least three crewmen were killed when a Bulgarian ship carrying scrap metal sank early Thursday during a storm on the Azov Sea between Ukraine and Russia, officials said.
The Vanessa was carrying a crew of 10 and a Ukrainian pilot who was guiding the ship as it approached the Kerch Strait, which connects the Azov Sea to the Black Sea, said Sergei Petrov, a spokesman for the Emergency Situations Ministry for southern Russia.
Petrov said rescuers pulled one survivor and three bodies from the sea, where waves were as high as 10 feet. In Romania, thousands of passengers were stranded Thursday after Bucharest's two main airports were closed due to heavy snowfall. The snow also blocked many roads in the south of the country, forcing the closure of at least one border crossing with Bulgaria and prompting train delays.
In Turkey's capital, Ankara, snowfall caused traffic jams and accidents, but no injuries were reported. Temperatures in Greece fell to a low of minus 18 degrees Celsius (minus 1 Fahrenheit) in the north of the country, where snow blanketed roads.
In Western Europe, ice and snow disrupted traffic. The Mont-Blanc tunnel linking France and Italy was closed to trucks until Friday because sharp temperature differences between the two sides threatened to disrupt the tunnel's ventilation, traffic authorities announced.
A Boeing 737 from Marrakech, Morocco, flown by the Atlas Blue airline, slid off an icy runway while landing Thursday morning, said authorities at the airport in Deauville, northern France. The plane came to a halt in grass. The 169 passengers were evacuated unharmed.
Cold weather and heavy snow disrupted traffic in Sweden and caused half a dozen road accidents Thursday.
Fourteen people received minor injuries and one was wounded seriously after two buses collided in icy conditions in central Sweden.
In southern Sweden, two passenger ferries traveling from Rostock in Germany to Trelleborg were kept waiting at sea for several hours Thursday morning, as the bad weather made it impossible to dock. The situation was resolved in the early afternoon.
From Holland & Knight
USCG – Rescue 21 update
The US Coast Guard issued a press release stating that, on January 9, it will formally accept the new Rescue 21 facility at Sector New York on Staten Island. Rescue 21 is an advanced radiocommunications system that offers direction-finding capability, reduction in coverage gaps, enhanced playback capability, digital archiving of calls, and increased channel monitoring capability. (1/3/08).
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a news release stating that it will lead an international effort to ensure the accuracy of the Global Navigation Satellite System by pinpointing the locations of more than 40 global positioning satellites in Earth orbit. (1/3/08).
The UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) issued a press notice stating that the container ship that grounded on Varne Bank in Dover Strait has, with the aid of three tugs, been refloated. The ship is undergoing inspection in a safe anchorage. (1/2/08).