Europe: more homeless deaths

Manfred Theis (
Fri, 27 Nov 1998 14:27:53 PST

--------- Forwarded Message ---------

DATE: Wed, 25 Nov 1998 12:08:05
From: Blazing Star <>

Siberian cold kills dozens in Poland and other
European countries

Krzysztof Chmiel knows about being homeless and
drinking, so his explanation for the 47 deaths as
of Wednesday in Poland's Arctic cold wave sounds

"They drink methylated spirit and then drop dead,"
said the 46-year-old Chmiel, bundled up in a long,
heavy coat at a Warsaw homeless shelter.

"Methylated spirit warms you up really quickly,
but you also cool down quickly."

The frigid Arctic air that moved in last week has
claimed more than 90 lives across Europe,
including 30 in Romania and some in France,
Bulgaria and Italy.

Poland has the highest death toll so far, with six
more victims found overnight.

Police here agree that alcohol consumption
contributes heavily, saying most victims are
middle-aged men who drink themselves into a stupor
and perish after collapsing outside.

About 30 percent of the total are homeless, police
say, and most of the homeless victims had been

That is no surprise in a nation where people drink
8.5 liters (more than two gallons) of pure spirit
each year on average, one of the highest figures
in Europe.

A small number of Poles consuming alcohol (5.3
percent) account for almost half the total,
according to the Agency of Solving Alcohol

Among Poland's poor and homeless, methylated
alcohol - which is ethyl alcohol mixed with toxic
methanol to make anti-freeze and cleaning
solutions - and apple wine are popular because
they are cheap and easily available.

Chmiel was evicted from his apartment and slept on
the floor of the Warsaw train station for two
months, when the sub-freezing temperatures forced
him to flee to one of several shelters operated by
Markot, Warsaw's biggest welfare group for the

He joined about 500 others out-of-sorts men and
women in the shelter, designed for 200 people.
The cold has forced Markot and other agencies to
change their policy.

Drunks were formerly turned away, before
temperatures dropped so low that death became a
nightly threat. "The situation is critical," said
Ewa Selke, who helps run the Markot shelter at
Marywilska street, where Chmiel is staying. "We
don't refuse anybody."

Police said they find up to 200 people sleeping on
the streets each night and take them to shelters
all over the country for safety and sobering up.

That further taxes the already crowded shelters in
Poland, where post-communist economic reforms have
left millions jobless. As many as 10,000 people in
Warsaw are believed homeless, and Markot founder
Marek Kotanski said his organization has 40
percent less money now than it did last winter.

At another Warsaw center, an underground passage
at Modlinska street, up to 700 men squeeze into a
space that contained less than 200 before the cold

"Newcomers reduce living space for other people,"
Kotanski said. "That causes enormous stress."
The situation in poor provinces is even worse,
said Ewa Kuruliszwili of the Polish Committee of
Social Welfare.

In southwestern Walbrzych province, where several
mines have closed under the economic reforms, only
one shelter exists, she said. People who seek help
from her committee, as many as 20 a day, get only
food and clothes but no shelter.

The high death toll so far and the likelihood of
more cold weather in upcoming months makes last
winter's figure of 54 deaths seem small.

"I see several hundred corpses," Kotanski said.

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