Heavy winter weather batters UK, European mainland

LONDON — Persistent snow and freezing conditions from a Siberian cold snap snarled transit Wednesday and caused a handful of deaths across a swathe of Europe from Britain to the Balkans.

In the U.K., where the weather system has been dubbed "the beast from the east," the weather office issued an alert for Scotland warning that heavy snow and strong wind would bring widespread damage, disruption and risk to life late Wednesday and early Thursday.

"People should ask themselves the question 'is this journey absolutely and utterly essential?' If not, do not travel," Scottish Transport Minister Humza Youssef said.

The weather caused cancelations at Glasgow and Edinburgh airports, and Scottish Premiership soccer matches were canceled Wednesday.

Trains were canceled across the north and east of Britain and as far south as London, where several subway lines experienced severe delays, including the Piccadilly Line that links central London to Heathrow Airport.

Emergency officials said many drivers had to be rescued from stranded vehicles. Hundreds of schools were shut for a second day.

The weather also forced hospitals to cancel elective procedures and outpatient care.

France's national weather agency, Meteo France, put a large part of the country on alert for dangerous levels of snow, ice and violent wind. Urging people to limit their movement, Meteo France said snowfall would continue until Friday.

Several deaths were attributed to the cold snap, including a 75-year-old man who fell through ice in the Netherlands, likely while skating.

A 38-year old man was found dead on a frozen river in northern Germany amid continuing subzero temperatures across the country, according to German news agency dpa.

In Denmark, a 54-year-old man who suffered from dementia was found dead in the snow on the Baltic Sea island of Bornholm, police said.

In southern Serbia, another man suffering from dementia was found frozen to death Wednesday after he disappeared from his home two days ago.

An elderly man died of cold when he went out to collect wood near Maribor in Slovenia, authorities there said. Temperatures in the country fell as low as -27 C (-16.6 F).

Snowfall of up to 1.1 meters (3.6 feet) blanketed all of Albania, including a rare accumulation in the capital, Tirana. Many schools in the countryside did not have classes on Wednesday.

Snow has blocked many roads and damaged power pylons across Albania, leading to power cuts in many rural areas.

In Kosovo, the Education Ministry closed all elementary and high schools Wednesday due to the extreme. Temperatures were expected to drop as low as minus 23 Celsius (minus 9.4 Fahrenheit).

Freezing weather also limited traffic and closed down schools in Croatia, with snow falling even along the Adriatic coast.

The cold snap saw a snowman built in Venice's St. Mark's Square, while snow delayed Formula One testing at the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona on Wednesday.

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