Sunday, January 10, 2010

Heavy snow hits Europe, disrupt travel

Updated on : Sunday, January 10, 2010

BERLIN: Snow and freezing weather swept parts of Europe on Saturday causing travel chaos for thousands and forecasters predicted no let-up in Britain's harshest cold snap in 30 years.

Rail and air travel were disrupted in Britain, France and Germany. Eurostar, the rail service linking England and France, said it was running around two-thirds of its normal Saturday service from London.

A spokeswoman for the train operator encouraged people not to travel unless the trip was essential.

Forecasters in Britain said icy winds from northern Europe meant the big freeze felt even colder after temperatures fell overnight to minus 14 celsius (7 F) and even lower in some parts of the country.

The Met Office said up to 20 cm (8 in) of snow could fall over the next 24 hours, with the southeast of the country hardest hit.

"Drifting in the very strong winds will cause even greater accumulations in places," it warned.

Temperatures looked set to remain below freezing, with some rural spots not getting above minus 10 degrees even by midday.

Lanes were closed on motorways as a rationing of grit meant hard shoulders were not treated. The government has ordered fresh supplies of salt from abroad but they were not expected to be delivered until January 22.

British Airways canceled 50 flights from London's Heathrow Airport, while nine Easyjet flights were canceled to and from British airports including Gatwick and Luton.

Many sports events, including football matches, racing and rugby fixtures, were canceled because of the weather.

Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that despite the severe cold snap, supplies of gas for heating would not run out, although about 100 industrial customers have been ordered to cut back usage.

Heavy snow storms in Germany caused widespread travel disruptions, with scores of flights canceled at the country's biggest airport and delays to road traffic heading to neighboring France. At Frankfurt airport, around 200 of 1,250 scheduled flights had been canceled by 1130 GMT, while more than 500 trucks were held up at the A5 autobahn's border crossing to France in the southwestern town of Neuenburg, authorities said.

Southern Germany suffered the worst of the snow and winds, where hundreds of road accidents injured a number of people and caused traffic jams on several main roads, police said.

Aside from a few isolated incidents in the southeast, rail travel in Europe's largest economy was not seriously affected, a spokesman for rail operator Deutsche Bahn said.

Late on Friday, a plane departing the southern city of Nuremberg skidded from the runway and got stuck in the snow prior to take-off. No passengers were injured.

Authorities had issued warnings before low pressure front "Daisy" hit Germany this weekend, advising households to stock up on food and avoid unnecessary travel. Disruptions on Saturday were generally deemed to be less severe than expected.

The DWD meteorological service said the front would move north in the course of the day, and that winds of up to 100 kph (60 mph) were possible on Germany's Baltic coast.

French meteorological organization Meteo France placed 29 of the country's departmental regions on a state of alert on Saturday because of heavy snow falls and icy roads.

Toulouse, Lourdes, Lyon, Brest and Lorient airports were closed and flights were delayed at Paris Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports, Aeroports de Paris said.

Civil aviation authorities had called for a quarter of flights to be canceled at Charles de Gaulle.

Trains between Paris and cities such as Tours, Lyon and Marseille had to travel more slowly than normal, leading to delays to services, according to rail operator SNCF.

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