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Latvia rescues 220 people stranded on ice floes

Two ice floes drifted off the Latvian coast Friday, leaving 220 people stranded at sea for most of the afternoon.

Latvia ice floesEnlarge
Rescuer leave the Riga Port Authority on March 29, 2013 in Riga. Latvian rescue workers and soldiers on Friday airlifted more than 200 people, mostly ice fishermen, from two ice floes adrift in the Gulf of Riga, officials said. (ILMARS ZNOTINS/AFP/Getty Images)

Two ice floes drifted off the Latvian coast Friday, leaving 220 people stranded at sea for most of the afternoon.

State Fire and Rescue Service spokeswoman Viktorija Sembele said boats, ships and helicopters had been dispatched in the rescue operation after two large sections of ice broke away from the shore and floated into the Gulf of Riga due to warm southerly winds.

"In all there were around 180 people trapped on the ice at Vakarbulli and 40 at Majori," Sembele told Agence France-Presse, adding that all but 20 people had been rescued and no serious injuries were reported.

One of the floes broke away at one of Riga's most popular beaches and the other drifted into the sea a few miles down the coast.

A man who was trapped on one of the ice floes said nobody panicked when it broke away and people boarded boats to return to dry land without a problem. Many had been ice fishing when the incident occurred.

"People feel ok," said Dmitry Belyaev. "After the ice floe broke off we contacted rescuers immediately. Half an hour later the rescue boats arrived."

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Because of Friday's public holiday, there was a spike in the number of people ice fishing at the beach, a hugely popular sport in the Baltic state. The season had been particularly busy because of an unusually cold spring, but authorities had warned Thursday that a thaw was coming due to high winds.

Rescue operations involving people stranded on ice floes are common in the Baltic states, as ice fisherman tend to stray far from the shore.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/130329/latvia-rescues-220-people-stranded-ice-floes