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9 die in Kosovo avalanche; child survives

Updated at 10:00 a.m. ET -- A five-year-old girl has been found alive in the rubble of a house flattened by a massive avalanche that killed at least nine people, including her parents, in a remote mountain village in southern Kosovo.

Col. Shemsi Syla, a spokesman for the Kosovo Security Force, said the girl was discovered in the ruins — buried under 10 meters (33 feet) of snow — when officers heard her voice and the ringing of a cell phone.

Osman Qerreti, an emergency official at the site, told The Associated Press that at least nine people died in the avalanche that hit the village of Restelica near Kosovo's border with Macedonia and Albania Saturday, destroying seven houses of which only two were inhabited. The rescuers were looking for one more person.


The girl, identified only by her last name Reka, was recovering in hospital in the nearby town of Prizren where doctors said her life was not in danger. She had been buried for more than 10 hours.

NATO peacekeepers, deployed in Kosovo to end the armed conflict between Serbs and Kosovo Albanians in 1999, had been called in to help local authorities in the rescue operation, but were unable to land a helicopter in the blizzard.

Rescuers — mostly local villagers using shovels — initially dug out the bodies of a married couple and their 17-year-old son. Six more bodies were discovered during the overnight and Sunday excavation.

"No bigger tragedy has ever struck this region," said local district official Behar Ramadani. "Two brothers with their wives and children have been killed."

The cold snap in Europe, which began in late January, has killed hundreds of people — most of them homeless. Heavy snow has been blanketing the Balkans for more than two weeks, with Restelica and roads in the region blocked for several days.

Heavy snow fell across Italy on Saturday, blanketing Rome, cutting off mountain villages and disrupting roads, railways and airports around the country.

The return within days of the heaviest snowfalls in Rome since the 1980s shut sites such as the Colosseum but gave tourists and residents another chance to see landmarks such as Saint Peter's Square and the Trevi fountain dusted with snow.

Rome's Fiumicino airport planned to cancel half of flights from 1600 GMT on Saturday, Italy's civil aviation authority Enac said in a statement. Several other airports across the country were closed or reducing operations.

In parts of England, temperatures plunged to around 0F overnight Friday, the Telegraph newspaper reported. A recording by an amateur weatherman of -1.1F was the lowest thermometer reading in Surrey since 1947, the Telegraph said.

In Kosovo, three people died and two children were injured on Thursday when a gas can that a family was using for heating exploded.

Kosovo's government ordered schools to remain closed for another week with more snow expected. Police said many inhabited areas were completely cut off.

In neighbouring Montenegro the government imposed a state of emergency late on Saturday after snow blocked roads and railways across most of the country. Three people have died so far.

More than 50 people have been stranded on a train in Montenegro's north for more than two days as emergency crews struggle to rescue them.

In the mountain town of Zabljak in Montenegro's north, snow was 2.3 metres deep, while authorities have banned all private traffic in the capital Podgorica, where snow is almost a metre (three feet) deep and more is forecast on Sunday.

In Serbia, which declared a state of emergency last week, 19 people have died in the cold snap so far. Economists said damage from the cold weather may cost the country more than 500 million euros ($660 million).

More than 2,000 industrial businesses have been idled to limit the strain on coal-fired power plants and hydropower plants, which were struggling because of the buildup of ice.

The government also ordered the closure of all schools and non-essential businesses until Feb. 20.

Port authorities for Serbian sections of the Danube, Sava and Tisa rivers halted navigation due to a heavy buildup of ice.

This article includes reporting by the Associated Press, Reuters and msnbc.com staff.

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