ABC News’ Dragana Jovanovic reports:
BELGRADE , Serbia – Serbia is frozen solid.
An arctic freeze has been blamed for six deaths in this European nation, while record snow has left 11,500 people trapped in about 6,500 households in remote villages. Many schools are closed, with hospitals facing an influx of hypothermia, orthopedic and cardiac cases.
The weather also caused traffic accidents, and raised fears of power-grid failures, burst water mains and skyrocketing home fuel and electricity bills. It has shut down normal life throughout the region.
”People are not ready for this kind of weather,” a doctor said in Bajina Basta, southwest Serbia, adding that hospitals were advising people not to go outdoors.
The temperature dropped this morning in the southern region of Sjenica to minus-4 degrees, with fresh snowfall and continued low temperatures forecast for the weekend. “We have not experienced such harsh conditions since1947,” Deputy Mayor Hazbo Mujovic said. “But back then, people were used to old-fashioned snowy and cold winters. They would prepare for it.”
Major highways remained open, but more than 1,800 miles of secondary roads are impassable. Many villages are cut off because of 16- to 19-foot-high snow drifts.
Thousands are shivering in their houses. “Our town is a virtual refrigerator since the utilities failed,” Tatjana Galic said by phone from Surdulica, adding that she has to pile on layers of clothing when going to bed at night. ”We’ve got no heating, practically.”
In many towns and villages, families huddle together around one heater, in thick cloths more like the ones worn at ski resorts. “We gather around wood and coal stoves to find warmth and lift our spirits a bit,” Milan Adamovic said of the snow-clogged village of Zabrdnji Toci.
His roof broke under the weight of more than 6 feet of snow.
Dozens of homes and thousands of people in the town of Svrljig were without heat, electricity and running water overnight after a heavy snow fall, daily Blic reported. Eighteen other municipalities have also declared a state of emergency.
In the capital Belgrade, more snow began falling Thursday night with strong winds that forecasters said will continue through the weekend. Dangerous driving conditions complicated the morning rush hour.
Traffic was unusually chaotic, with drivers reluctant to drive or unable to start their cars. Outside one apartment building, a man was putting his car battery back into his vehicle after taking it home overnight to keep it warm.
Igor Simic, 34, desperately tried, and failed, to start his car. “This is what happens when it’s such a minus and much snow. When is this going to end?” he wondered.
At a bus stop nearby, morning commuters ran in place to fend off the cold and snow. “Even Mars is warmer than Belgrade,” Milica Ivanovic said. “I have my heating on all the time. I just don’t know how I will pay my electricity bill.”
Low temperatures have lifted Serbia’s power consumption to record highs and forced it to boost imports to meet soaring demand.
The meteorological office says temperatures in the latest freeze have been considerably lower than usual for this time of year. Forecasters predicted more bitter cold into next week.