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Serbia: 11,000 trapped in remote villages by snow

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — At least 11,000 villagers have been trapped by heavy snow and blizzards in Serbia’s mountains, authorities said Thursday, as the death toll from Eastern Europe’s weeklong deep freeze rose to 123, many of them homeless people.

The harshest winter in decades has seen temperatures in some regions dropping to minus 30 C (minus 22 F) and below, and has caused power outages, traffic chaos and the widespread closure of schools, nurseries and airports.

The stranded in Serbia are stuck in some 6,500 homes in remote areas that cannot be reached due to icy, snow-clogged roads with banks reaching up to 5 meters (16 feet). Emergency crews were pressing hard to try to clear the snow to deliver badly needed supplies, and helicopters were dispatched to some particularly remote areas in Serbia and neighboring Bosnia.

On Bosnia’s Mt. Romanija, near Sarajevo, a chopper thumped down in the small hamlet of Ozerkovici, where a single nun lives in a Serb Christian Orthodox monastery surrounded by just a few village residents.

Wrapped tight in a black jacket and a scarf, Sister Justina greeted aid workers at her monastery: “I live alone here,” she said, but noted “God will help me.”

In Serbia, relief efforts are concentrated on evacuating the sick, on food delivery and gasoline distribution.

“We are trying everything to unblock the roads since more snow and blizzards are expected in the coming days,” Serbian emergency police official Predrag Maric told The Associated Press.

He said “the most dramatic” situation is near Serbia’s southwestern town of Sijenica, where it has been freezing cold or snowing for 26 days, and diesel fuel supplies used by snowplows are running low.

Most people in the villages will have enough food supplies stored up for the winter, Maric said, but he warned those who are stranded not to try to go anywhere on their own and to call emergency services if they need help.

Newly reported deaths on Thursday because of the cold included 20 in Ukraine, nine in Poland, eight in Romania, and one more each in Serbia and the Czech Republic. In Western Europe, one person was reported dead in Germany and one in Italy.

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