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Harsh British Winter Could Kill Upto 90,000 Pensioners

With rising gas prices and breakdown of electricity supplies, upto 90,000 senior citizens could die due to severe cold, charity organizations have warned.// As the Meteorological Office has issued its second severe weather warning, parliament debated the rising price of gas - essential to warm homes - while some experts feared a breakdown in electricity supplies during the winter.

Charity organisations caring for the elderly warned that as many as 89,000 pensioners will die in the cold. Concerns for the old and the infirm have been heightened by reports of a shortage of flu vaccine.

Snowfall was reported Thursday in parts of northern Scotland. The rest of Britain was expected to receive snowfall within the next two days, putting a strain on supplies of gas and electricity.

The Highways Agency has cautioned drivers to prepare themselves and their cars. It has announced that gritters will be used on England's motorways and other strategic roads where ice or snow is expected.

Several instances of people stranded in heavy snow have been reported.

Electricity company Scottish Hydro Electric warned of possible widespread damage to the electricity network and has deployed extra engineers into strategic points throughout Scotland, including the Western Isles.

Conservative leader Michael Howard accused the Tony Blair government of 'inefficiency and incompetence' over the shortages of flu vaccine and alleged that the failure to guarantee enough vaccines and energy supplies showed the government was 'on its skids'.

Howard's warning came as analysts revealed that Britain's gas is now the most expensive in the world, trading at twice the price of crude. This is expected to lead to bigger bills for householders.

Prime Minister Tony Blair refused to rule out cuts to domestic gas supplies as he came under fire over rising prices and fears of fuel shortages this winter.

He conce ded that the country faced 'difficulties with gas prices', admitting there was a problem for industry, raising the prospect of lay-offs. Experts believed that besides the possibility of power blackouts, gas shortages, jams on motorways, there will also be extra pressure on the National Health Service (NHS).

The NHS faces the prospect of a full-blown winter bed shortage for the first time since Labour came to power in 1997.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) warned that power shortfalls caused by the rising domestic demand to keep warm, and Britain's dwindling strategic stockpiles, could lead to factory shutdowns and a return to the three-day week.

One of the most severe winters in Britain was recorded in 1963 when temperatures dropped to minus 22 degrees Centigrade - the Thames had turned into a sheet of ice, while large parts of England were under more than a foot of snow for weeks.

(IANS)
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