(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis’ appeal on Sunday for care of the homeless comes as icy temperatures and blizzards across Europe have left at least 20 people dead, with the situation especially critical in the Balkans and Eastern Europe.
From Budapest, regional correspondent Stefan Bos reports on the worst of the winter weather.
Russia experienced its coldest Orthodox Christmas in 120 years as night temperatures dropped to minus 30 Celsius (minus 22 Fahrenheit). The Christmas celebrations in Russia and elsewhere in the region were overshadowed by reports that the ice spell is claiming lives especially in former Soviet satellite states such as Poland where at least 10 people died of cold in recent days.
Several winter related deaths are also reported in neighboring Ukraine, a nation already facing turmoil because of an ongoing conflict between pro-Russian separatists and government forces in the east.
The blizzards and dangerously low temperatures have also left villages cut off and caused power outages as the extremely cold weather continues for a fourth day in most of Eastern Europe.
Dozens of villages in the remote Pestar region of Serbia were sealed off Sunday by heavy snow. That prompted the evacuation of some 100 people by emergency crews. And numerous northern villages in neighboring Bulgaria were left without electricity and water.
Power outages were also reported in parts of Bosnia Herzegovina. People have been seen struggling to remove heavy snow in Sarajevo and elsewhere. Power cuts also happened in Serbia.
Polar temperatures caused some rivers to freeze, while ice and snow slowed road traffic and led to flight cancellations throughout the region. Police in Bulgaria said a passenger train was derailed Sunday after it hit a pile of snow in the central part of the country, but no injuries were reported.
Earlier in neighboring Romania authorities said 90 people were rescued from stranded cars and that crews were working to save people stuck in some 30 cars on a major highway. More than 40 trains were not running due to snow on the tracks.
Here in Hungary accidents have been reported as temperatures dropped to minus 28 Celsius. Police and medical staff rushed to help some homeless people. In Hungary and elsewhere in Eastern Europe there are thousands of homeless people, with many spending the night without shelter.
The winter weather hit also other parts of Europe, blanketing the Greek islands and southern Italy in snow, as Italian authorities cancelled several ferries and flights, while schools in the south were expected to close on Monday.
Several homeless were among those who died in Italy where weather conditions also impact areas already suffering under the aftermath of recent earthquakes.