Ice covers the pier at the harbour of Constance at Lake Constance, Germany. Picture: Steffen Schmidt/dpa via AP
Ice covers the pier at the harbour of Constance at Lake Constance, Germany. Picture: Steffen Schmidt/dpa via AP
Ice hangs off of a fountain of a world globe in Kontich, Belgium. Picture: Virginia Mayo/AP
Ice hangs off of a fountain of a world globe in Kontich, Belgium. Picture: Virginia Mayo/AP
A woman shovels snow in Bredstedt, northern Germany.  Picture: Frank Molter/dpa via AP
A woman shovels snow in Bredstedt, northern Germany. Picture: Frank Molter/dpa via AP
Fabio Fodaro rides his bike in snowfall at Helix Park in Falkirk, Scotland. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA via AP
Fabio Fodaro rides his bike in snowfall at Helix Park in Falkirk, Scotland. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA via AP
A pedestrian shelters himself as the snow falls, in Pamplona, northern Spain. Picture: Alvaro Barrientos/AP
A pedestrian shelters himself as the snow falls, in Pamplona, northern Spain. Picture: Alvaro Barrientos/AP
Ice covers the pier at the harbour of Constance at Lake Constance, Germany. Picture: Steffen Schmidt/dpa via AP
Ice covers the pier at the harbour of Constance at Lake Constance, Germany. Picture: Steffen Schmidt/dpa via AP
Icicles hang on a branch on the shore of  Lake Alpnachersee in Alpnach, Switzerland. Picture: Urs Flueeler/Keystone via AP
Icicles hang on a branch on the shore of Lake Alpnachersee in Alpnach, Switzerland. Picture: Urs Flueeler/Keystone via AP
An electronic board warns "snow to Spain and Bordeaux" as a car drives on the highway near Bayonne, southwestern France. Picture: Bob Edme/AP
An electronic board warns "snow to Spain and Bordeaux" as a car drives on the highway near Bayonne, southwestern France. Picture: Bob Edme/AP
A man salts the road during snowfall in La Bastide Clairence, southwestern France. Picture: Bob Edme/AP
A man salts the road during snowfall in La Bastide Clairence, southwestern France. Picture: Bob Edme/AP
Drivers exit the motorway during heavy snow in Briscous, near Bayonne, southwestern France. Picture: Bob Edme/AP
Drivers exit the motorway during heavy snow in Briscous, near Bayonne, southwestern France. Picture: Bob Edme/AP
A hiker passes a snow-covered landscape on Brocken mountain in the Harz region, near Schierke, Germany. Picture: Swen Pfoertner/dpa via AP
A hiker passes a snow-covered landscape on Brocken mountain in the Harz region, near Schierke, Germany. Picture: Swen Pfoertner/dpa via AP
A woman shelters herself under a coloured umbrella as she walks during a snowfall, in Florence, Italy. Picture: Maurizio degl'Innocenti/ANSA via AP
A woman shelters herself under a coloured umbrella as she walks during a snowfall, in Florence, Italy. Picture: Maurizio degl'Innocenti/ANSA via AP
A man cycles past the Leaning Tower of Pisa and its cathedral in Piazza dei Miracoli square, during a snowfall, in Pisa, Italy. Picture: Fabio Muzzi/ANSA via AP
A man cycles past the Leaning Tower of Pisa and its cathedral in Piazza dei Miracoli square, during a snowfall, in Pisa, Italy. Picture: Fabio Muzzi/ANSA via AP
The icy Alfred Escher fountain is pictured in Zurich, Switzerland. Picture: Melanie Duchene/Keystone via AP
The icy Alfred Escher fountain is pictured in Zurich, Switzerland. Picture: Melanie Duchene/Keystone via AP
A hiker passes by a snow-covered tree on Brocken mountain in the Harz region, near Schierke, Germany. Picture: Swen Pfoertner/dpa via AP
A hiker passes by a snow-covered tree on Brocken mountain in the Harz region, near Schierke, Germany. Picture: Swen Pfoertner/dpa via AP

London - The current cold snap holding much of Europe in its icy grip claimed lives and caused traffic chaos across the continent on Thursday.

A 44-year-old man was found dead in an abandoned building in the small town of As, in the western Czech Republic, police said, as temperatures plummeted to below minus 20 degrees Celsius.

He was the eighth victim of the weather in that country, most of whom were homeless.

Two of the dead were an elderly couple, aged 67 and 63, who froze to death on the 3-kilometre walk home from a party.

Ireland issued a national red alert for severe winter weather, with similar warnings for parts of Britain amid reports that snow trapped hundreds of drivers overnight.

The alerts came as freezing weather continued to affect road, rail and air transport across Western Europe, with heavy snow closing Geneva airport for a period, and flights cancelled or delayed at many other airports.

Met Eireann, Ireland's national forecaster, said heavy snow showers on Thursday would bring "accumulations of significant levels, with all areas at risk."

It warned of blizzards and snowdrifts in some areas, with the worst weather expected in eastern and southern coastal areas.

Following a meeting of the Irish government's emergency committee, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said it was "very important that people stay indoors from 4 pm (1600 GMT)."

"If you are out, please make sure you get home before then. Plan ahead," Varadkar said on Twitter.

"We are facing an extraordinary weather event," he said earlier, adding that he had "instructed all of the machinery of the state to work together to keep people safe."

Irish Rail said all services would be suspended until Saturday.

Andy Page, chief meteorologist at Britain's Met Office, said snow up to 40 centimetres deep could fall in some areas on Thursday.

Freezing rain in south-western areas could bring large areas of ice, "leading to severe risks affecting transport and power networks," Page said.

British police reported several weather-related deaths this week.

A 46-year-old man died on Thursday after the van he was driving hit a lorry in the southern county of Hampshire, while a man in his 60s died in hospital after he was pulled from a freezing lake in London on Wednesday.

Britain's Met Office also issued red alerts for south-western England and central Scotland, while lower-level alerts were in force across most of the country as Storm Emma added to the snow and ice brought earlier this week by a cold front dubbed the "Beast from the East."

Many roads and most schools were closed in the two countries, with reports of hundreds of drivers stranded on roads in parts of England and Scotland overnight.

Britain's National Rail said all train services would be cancelled late Thursday and early Friday in areas with red alerts.

London's Heathrow Airport, Europe's busiest air hub, said it was working with airlines to "consolidate the flight schedule" on Thursday, while services were suspended on the Heathrow Express direct rail service from central London.

Gatwick, London's second airport, also remained open but said it expected many cancellations and delays on Thursday.

Snow hit popular tourist destinations in Italy, forcing the closure of the dome on Florence's cathedral and Giotto's bell tower. Snow was to be seen on beaches even in the south of the country.

Snow has now hit Rome, Venice, Siena, Pisa, Florence and Naples.

In southern France, at least 1,500 stranded motorists were evacuated from their cars overnight on motorways near Montpellier, local authorities said.

Hundreds more were reported to have been unable to leave their vehicles. The operator of the A9 motorway tweeted shortly after midday that busses were being sent to evacuate them.

The Norwegian municipality Folldal in the south-eastern county of Hedmark on Thursday recorded Europe's lowest temperature: The mercury plunged to minus 41.8 degrees Celsius, public broadcaster NRK reported, citing the Norwegian Meteorological Institute.

In Denmark, an 84-year-old woman suffering from dementia was found dead in a park in the city of Roskilde, west of Copenhagen.

She was last seen alive at her home late Wednesday and was reported missing earlier Thursday.

Police said she had succumbed to a combination of cold weather, age, dementia and lack of warm clothes, news agency Ritzau reported.

Meanwhile, a woman died and her two children were being treated for hypothermia on Thursday after they disappeared from an asylum centre in southern Sweden in sub-zero temperatures, Swedish police said.

The three were from Burkina Faso and had been at the asylum centre in Savsjo since last year, police spokesman Thomas Agnevik told dpa.