Moscow: A vicious cold snap across Russia and eastern Europe has claimed nearly 200 lives, officials figures showed yesterday, as forecasters warned it would last until Christmas Eve.

In Russia, the cold has killed two people in the past 24 hours, the Ria-Novosti agency reported, citing medical sources, bringing the total number of deaths over the past week to 56.

The freeze had also left 371 people in hospital.

Thermometers have been stuck below minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus 4 Fahrenheit) in Moscow - and below minus 50 degrees (minus 58 F) in some parts of Siberia - for a week.

Russian weather forecasters said temperature in the Khabarovsk region in eastern Russia had dropped to minus 43 Celsius, while Krasnoyarsk in Siberia reported minus 47.

This “abnormal” frost would last till Monday because of a persistent anticyclone, they added.

In Russia’s European region, meanwhile, the mercury is expected to fall to minus 31 degrees Celsius on Christmas Eve before rising rapidly afterwards.

Other European countries hit hard by the extreme temperatures were counting the toll as temperatures gradually started to return to normal.

Authorities in Ukraine, which has been battling heavy snowfall for weeks, said 83 people had died of cold, with 57 of the victims found on the street.

The homeless are traditionally the hardest-hit by the region’s bitter winters.

Another 526 cold victims were reportedly receiving hospital treatment in Ukraine.

Ukrainian authorities said 93 villages - mainly on the Crimean peninsula in the south of the country - were still hit by a power outage.

In eastern Europe, police in Poland said yesterday that 49 people had died of exposure this month, with most of the victims homeless, as temperatures plunged to minus 10 degrees Celsius.

At least six people have died of exposure in Lithuania in the past weeks, police and emergency services said there.

In Latvia, temperatures reached minus 14 Celsius on Friday morning. In the capital Riga, authorities decided to drop public transport fares to encourage drivers to leave their cars at home and prevent crashes and jams.

On Christmas Eve temperatures in Latvia are expected to drop to minus 28 Celsius, a record low.

In the Czech Republic and Slovakia, temperatures hovered around zero on Friday. Czech police said several people had died of exposure in recent weeks, but no overall statistics were available for the country.

Large swathes of the United Kingdom were put on alert for further disruption from flooding over one of the busiest weekends for travel of the year in the run up to Christmas.

The west and south of England was particularly hard hit by flooding on Thursday as heavy rains continued to affect much of the country with the AA responding to hundreds of call-outs from drivers stuck in or affected by floodwater.

In the US travellers were hoping to finally head to their holiday destinations as the first major Midwest snowstorm of the season moved across the Great Lakes toward Canada, leaving deaths in several states.

The storm led airlines to cancel more than 1,000 flights, most of them in Chicago.In Iowa, two people were killed and seven injured in a 25-vehicle highway pileup. There were at least two traffic deaths each in Nebraska and Wisconsin and one in Kansas.

In Utah, a woman who tried to walk for help after her car became stuck in snow died Tuesday night. (With input from agencies)