Snow, ice coat the Balkans with unworldly beauty

A security worker patrols as icicles hang from the cooling towers of Kosovo's main power plant "Kosova A" in Obilic on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012. ( AP Photo / Visar Kryeziu )

Central Europe has had a winter for the ages. In fact, you could say this is their version of the Northwest's January 1950 winter as some spots there have been dealing with sub-freezing temperatures for weeks on end.

Check out the story and some of the photographs from the icy region:

By ALISON MUTLER Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) - Snow as deep as 15 feet (4.5 meters) isolated areas in Romania, Moldova and Albania on Tuesday and turned a power plant in Kosovo into a park of dazzling ice sculptures.

In a winter harsher than many can remember, energy workers struggled mightily Tuesday to break the ice that has encapsulated Kosovo's main power station in Obilic. Steam from the plant's vents coated its pipes and buildings with ice and snow, turning them into unworldly, unrecognizable objects of art.

Since the end of January, Eastern Europe has been pummeled by a record-breaking cold snap and the heaviest snowfalls in recent memory. Hundreds of people, many of them homeless, have died in the frigid weather and tens of thousands have been snowed in.

Authorities have been forced to use helicopters and army trucks to deliver food and medicine and to help the sick reach hospitals.

About 4,000 Romanian coal miners volunteered Tuesday to buy tins of food from the money the company gives them for hot meals and donate that to the worst-affected snow victims in eastern Romania.

Officials said five Romanians died in the past 24 hours due to the cold, bringing the total to 79 weather-related deaths. Neighboring Moldova also has been hard hit by snow, and both countries have seen schools, borders, highways and train services shut down in some areas as temperatures plunged to minus 9 Fahrenheit (minus 23 Celsius) overnight.

The Romanian rail network CFR canceled 413 trains due to heavy snow on the lines.

Albania, meanwhile, has declared a state of emergency in the worst-affected areas. Army trucks and helicopters brought food and medicine to 250,000 Albanians who were isolated in their villages by deep snow, which has also caused power outages and feed shortages for farm animals like cows and sheep.

The roofs of about two dozen houses, including that of a 300-year-old church in southeastern Albania, collapsed under the weight of the snow, but no injuries were reported.

In Bulgaria, the soccer federation postponed the restart of the domestic league nearly a month, from Feb. 24 to March 20, because of the exceptionally cold weather and heavy snow.