7 Feb 2012

Italy takes emergency measures to conserve gas

4:45 pm on 7 February 2012

The Italian government has taken emergency measures to conserve gas supplies as bitterly cold weather grips the country.

Italy, like a number of European countries, imports gas from Russia, but is not able to get the imports it needs to meet demand that is at an all-time high as a result of days of intense cold.

Under the emergency plan, some power stations will switch from gas to oil and some industrial consumers will have their supplies cut off to protect domestic users from shortages and ensure homes remain warm.

At least 24 people have died in Italy in the rare conditions.

Temperatures have dropped to their lowest levels for years, with -10C recorded in Milan, heavy snow has closed the Colosseum in Rome and the Forum and ice has formed on the canals of Venice.

In the Tuscan towns of Arezzo and Siena some 36,000 residents are still without power.

Elsewhere in Europe, the death toll in Poland and Ukraine has risen to well over 200.

Nine people have died in Poland in the last 24 hours as temperatures dropped to beneath -30C. The death toll in Ukraine is at least 130.

Ukrainian officials said many of those who died were homeless people living on the streets who had succumbed to hypothermia.

And in Serbia, schools have been shut down for a week to save power and keep children safe.