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A Week of the White Stuff

You  Arctic blast across Europe

AFP/File / PASCAL POCHARD-CASABIANCAEven the French Mediterranean island of Corsica has been hit by a rare bout of winter snow

A blast of Siberian weather sent temperatures plunging across much of Europe on Tuesday, causing headaches for travellers and leading to several deaths from exposure as snow carpeted palm-lined Mediterranean beaches.

The icy weather is in stark contrast to conditions in the Arctic itself, which is experiencing an “off-the-charts” heatwave this week, according to the European Geosciences Institute.

Meteorologists have documented temperatures above freezing in some parts of the Arctic, causing astonishment among many scientists.

But to the south swathes of Europe were shivering under temperatures well below freezing, claiming at least 10 lives across the continent in a snap dubbed “the Beast from the East” by British tabloids.

At least five deaths were reported in Poland alone on Monday as the mercury dropped to minus 16 Celsius (minus 4 Fahrenheit) overnight in Warsaw.

AFP / VALERY HACHESnow also fell in Nice in southern France

That brought the number of Polish deaths from freezing to 53 since November 1, and temperatures are expected to remain below minus 12 Celsius across the country Tuesday, with the cold accentuated by a biting wind.

In Lithuania, temperatures dropped to as low as minus 26 degrees Celsius overnight, and one suspected death of a man from freezing was reported in the capital Vilnius.

In Britain, authorities warned of five to 10 centimetres (2-4 inches) of snow on Tuesday and the likelihood of travel delays on roads, rail networks and at airports, while electricity and even mobile phone service may be cut in some areas.

On Monday, British Airways cancelled more than 60 short-haul flights either departing or arriving from London Heathrow airport.

– Stalactite near miss –

Some of the iciest conditions were reported in Italy, where many schools and daycare centres were closed, to the consternation of parents already preparing for closures next week linked to this weekend’s general election.

Public anger was also growing over the disruptions to rail services across the country, as travellers learned that many track switches did not have defrosting equipment, meaning they had to be dug out by hand.

In Naples, the airport was closed early Tuesday and bus services in the city halted because of ice.

AFP / Sabrina BLANCHARDAn Arctic blast has sent temperatures plummeting around Europe

And a driver in Turin got a fright when a stalactite broke off from an overhead bridge and shattered his windshield — though he managed to keep control of his vehicle.

One of the coldest points overnight was at Glattalp in Switzerland, where the temperature fell to -38 Celsius — extreme even for the high-altitude area (1,850 metres), according to the ATS news agency.

In France, which has remained frigid but dry during the cold snap, forecasters warned of heavy snow across much of the country starting Wednesday — though spring-like temperatures would soon follow.

On Tuesday, residents of Ajaccio on the French Mediterranean island of Corsica woke up to some 15 centimetres of snow on the beach, something not seen since 1986.

At least three people have died during the cold snap in France.

Across the continent, authorities have been opening emergency shelters and increasing relief efforts for the homeless.

AFP / BEN STANSALLA man walks with his dog and pulls his child along in a sledge in Brenchley in southeast England

The mayor of Etterbeek in Belgium said those sleeping rough would be forcibly detained if they refused to go to shelters, citing the “major risk” from exposure to the cold.

In Berlin, rising fears for homeless people led officials to open an additional 100 beds, with the city’s shelters, now with a total of 1,200 beds, more than 90 percent full, RBB public radio reported.

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