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Extreme cold hits Nordic countries, floods cause chaos in Western Europe

Xinhua | Updated: 2024-01-05 09:49
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Snow is cleared with wheel loaders as cars and trucks are recovered and people are evacuated in southern Sweden on Jan 4, 2024. [Photo/VCG]

BRUSSELS - While extreme cold and heavy snowfall have led to power cuts and emergency rescues in the Nordic countries in the first week of 2024, floods in several Western European countries have also caused immense damage.

Sweden has seen the coldest January temperatures in 25 years, with the city of Kvikkjokk in the country's North recording minus 43.6 Celsius degrees on Wednesday.

According to Swedish Television (SVT), the lingering freeze grounded airline passengers at Lulea airport in the North as it was too cold to de-ice the planes. Bus routes in the region were also canceled, and thousands of households have been temporarily left without electricity.

Meanwhile, train lines that had been shut down earlier in the week due to the cold remained closed, to avoid the risk of passengers becoming trapped on trains in plummeting temperatures in the case of power outages.

In Denmark, on Thursday morning the town of Hald in the West recorded snow depth of half a meter, the deepest since January 2011. It is the first time in 13 years that Denmark has seen such extensive snow coverage, the Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI) reported.

Denmark has also broken a 138-year-old rainfall record. The town of Svendborg, some 163 km West of the Danish capital Copenhagen, on Wednesday received 59 millimeters of rain. This surpasses the previous record of 50 millimeters, set in January 1886.

The weather conditions have also led to significant traffic disruptions, with over 5,000 motorists seeking roadside assistance on Wednesday, making it one of the busiest days for emergency services.

Finland on Thursday recorded its lowest winter temperature, at minus 42.1 degrees, causing disruptions to public transit. State railroads canceled 10 percent of long-haul trains due to cold-related challenges.

Finnish Environment and Climate Minister Kai Mykkanen has urged citizens to reduce electricity usage due to high demand and record prices, exacerbated by the extreme cold, and unexpected power plant maintenance.

While the Nordic countries are grappling with freezing weather, concerns are rising in Western Europe over flooding due to heavy precipitation.

French firefighters in the northern French department of Pas-de-Calais rescued on Thursday 59 more people from floods caused by extreme weather, bringing the total number of rescuees to 710 since Dec 30, 2023, the local prefecture announced Thursday night.

According to the prefecture of Pas-de-Calais, some 189 municipalities and 2,016 households are currently impacted by rising water levels in the department.

Speaking from Pas-de-Calais on Thursday, French Minister of Ecological Transition Christophe Bechu implied that the areas currently flooded due to extreme water in the north of France could be declared by the state as a "non-buildable zone" which means that the government would buy the concerned residents' properties at the pre-flooded market price before destroying them.

In large parts of Germany, weeks of persistent rainfall have caused disruption, and led to the deaths of at least two people. Heavy rainfall and swelling rivers have pushed local disaster control to its limit in some areas, due to a lack of sandbags and overflowing dykes.

The German Weather Service (DWD) is expecting "heavy rain with only brief interruptions", as well as storms and gale-force winds into Thursday. Within 30 to 60 hours, there will be up to 50 liters of rain per square meter in many places, and up to 100 liters per square meter in the mountains.

The northern German state of Lower Saxony, which has been hit particularly hard, is now dependent on outside help. Neighboring federal states have supplied 1.5 million sandbags, while relief workers have also been sent from France, bringing a 1.2 km-long mobile dyke system.

Belgium is experiencing flooding on a number of rivers, following heavy rainfall since Tuesday. A dozen rivers in Wallonia were still on flood alert on Wednesday, according to the Walloon Region's hydrometric service.

Flood risks of varying degrees are present throughout Belgium. Flooding has impacted around 30 homes in Bouillon on the Semois river, with emergency services pumping water and rescuing items from affected cellars. Evacuations took place in Zandbergen village, East Flanders, with residents returning after inspections. In Annevoie-Rouillon, a dyke breach and increased rainfall led to material damage, and the relocation of four people.

Meanwhile in the UK, the Environment Agency on Wednesday issued around 300 flood warnings in England in the aftermath of Storm Henk, which has caused transport chaos and power cuts across the country.

Thousands of homes in England and Wales were left without electricity after strong winds brought down trees and power lines.

The Energy Networks Association said on social media platform X on Wednesday that 125,000 customers had been reconnected, and its teams "are working to reconnect 10,000 customers who are without power this morning".

A man in his 50s was confirmed dead in Gloucestershire after a tree fell on his car on Tuesday.

The Met Office, Britain's national meteorological service, on Wednesday issued a yellow weather warning for heavy rain across the south of England from Thursday to Friday.

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