Power systems struggle to cope as Europe battles the big freeze

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Serbia is struggling to keep its power system going, after weeks of record low temperatures in Europe.

The Serbian state power company said its system cannot hold on for much longer and authorities have urged citizens to save electricity in an appeal aired on television.

Europe’s big freeze so far has claimed hundreds of lives, mostly of homeless people, while tens of thousands more remain trapped in remote villages in Bosnia and Serbia and other hard-hit areas.

In many European capitals, shelters for the homeless have been set up to help them survive the cold snap that has seen temperatures sink as low as -36C (33F).

In Berlin, rescue vans loaded with food and clean sheets are picking up those in need and taking them to shelters.

The cold and snow have blocked roads, halted shipping, and forced schools to close in many countries. In Serbia, the power company warned of restrictions unless electricity consumption is reduced. It said it can only meet the present level of demand for a week longer, and said heavy industry will be switched off first.

“We have hit the limit with imports too, because of the very difficult situation in the entire region,” said Zoran Manasijevic, a senior official at the Serbian state electric company.

Manasijevic said the frigid temperatures have slowed digging for coal, which is used heavily in Serbia for power. There are also fears that ice that has formed on rivers could threaten power production at hydroelectric plants.

Authorities in Serbia plan to use explosives to break the ice on rivers to try to prevent flooding of the kind that hit Greece and Bulgaria on Monday and Tuesday that left at least eight dead.