– Romania uses army to save snow-trapped travellers (Reuters, Jan. 26, 2012):
* Temperatures expected to fall to -20C on Friday* PM says priority is to rescue stranded car travellers
* Blizzards also shut towns and port in Bulgaria (Updates rescue numbers, adds protests)
BUCHAREST — Romania has drafted in the army to rescue hundreds of travellers stranded by blizzards that dumped metres of snow on the ground on Thursday, derailing a train and forcing authorities to shut down motorways and ports and cancel flights.
Hundreds of schools were shut and by 2000 GMT dozens of towns and villages were still without electricity, as felled trees and strong winds brought down power lines.
Police and ambulance crews had rescued more than 1,600 people by Thursday evening but more than 1,000 cars were still snowed in on roads, Prime Minister Emil Boc said, and road authority officials were distributing tea and blankets.
Authorities have banned traffic on Romania’s only two motorways and several national roads until weather improved.
“I am asking you to not rest easy until you have made sure people’s lives are not in danger,” Prime Minister Boc told an emergency response meeting late on Thursday before heading out to capital Bucharest’s ringroad to inspect progress.
Defence Minister Gabriel Oprea said 5,000 military were ready to help rescue teams if needed.
“Everything is white around me,” one woman, crying in her car, told Realitatea TV. “I’m almost paralysed with cold, with no food or supplies since 4.30 p.m. on Wednesday.”
Meanwhile, anti-government protests, in their second week, continued in cities across the country, although the number of protesters had fallen due to freezing temperatures.
In capital Bucharest, dozens of protesters gathered earlier on Thursday for the fourteenth straight day, calling for the resignation of Boc and President Traian Basescu, his close ally, over harsh austerity measures enforced since the start of the financial crisis.
The weather was expected to improve by Thursday night in most counties, although Constanta and Tulcea counties in southeastern Romania would remain under pressure. Weather forecasters expect temperatures to fall to below minus 20 degrees Celsius on Friday.
A train travelling between the Black Sea and Bucharest derail earlier on Thursday but no one was killed or injured.
Four of the country’s ports on the Black Sea, including the largest, Constanta, were closed on Wednesday due to heavy winds and a snowstorm. To the south, the Bulgarian port of Burgas was also shut down.
Around 30 local and international flights from Bucharest’s main airport were cancelled while others were delayed by up to three hours, the government said.