220 people rescued from ice floes in Latvia

Latvian rescue workers and soldiers have airlifted more than 200 people, mostly ice fishermen, from two ice floes adrift in the Gulf of Riga, officials said.

Rescue services spokeswoman Viktorija Sembele told AFP a total of 180 people were rescued at Vakarbulli and 43 at Majori, both towns on the Gulf of Riga, around 1400 GMT Friday. No injuries were reported.

Helicopters carried up to 20 people at a time off the ice floes, she said.

Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics used his Facebook page to congratulate the rescue services and army for their "high level of professionalism" in the operation.

A public holiday on Good Friday saw a spike in the number of people engaging in recreational ice fishing, which is hugely popular in the tiny Baltic state.

The season has been especially busy this year because of an unusually cold spring.

But this week authorities began warning of a thaw amid high winds - a combination that creates ice floes and pushes them offshore.

Every year dozens of ice fishermen are rescued and a handful drown when they venture out onto ice too thin to support their weight.

Temperatures in Latvia are expected to remain hovering around freezing over the Easter holiday weekend, increasing the risk for those venturing out on the ice.

Rescue services are advising anyone intending to go ice fishing to have a fully-charged mobile phone kept safe in a waterproof container in case of an emergency.

- AFP

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