Snow grounds 800 flights in Europe

2010-12-17 22:30

Berlin - Heavy overnight snowfall disrupted air travel across western Europe Friday, forcing more than 800 flight cancellations and leading to major delays in Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

Germany appeared the hardest hit by the snow, with more than 600 flights cancelled, schools forced to close and highways clogged with traffic after scores of accidents that killed at least three people and injured dozens.

Snow also hindered flights in the neighbouring Netherlands, where Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport saw more than 100 cancellations and major delays ahead of the busy Christmas holiday season, spokesperson Mirjam Snoerwang said.

The European control agency eurocontrol said passengers at Schiphol, one of continental Europe's busiest airports, had to expect delays of up to 4 1/2 hours.

Moreover, many passengers whose flights were cancelled had their misery compounded by train and bus traffic also being hit hard by the snow, stranding them in Schiphol's terminal buildings.

Dutch weather agency KNMI issued a "weather alarm" warning of heavy snowfall and lethal driving conditions in large parts of the western Netherlands as traffic jams grew around major cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague.

Snow also forced the cancellation of about 100 flights in Switzerland, where Geneva's airport was closed early on Friday morning, though it was open again by mid morning, and flights were also disrupted in Zurich.

Stranded overnight

In Frankfurt, continental Europe's second-biggest hub, 470 flights had been cancelled by late afternoon, airport spokesperson Gunnar Scheunemann said. The airport had to be closed for about an hour late on Thursday, and an estimated 1 000 passengers were stranded overnight.

About 20cm of snow blanketed the state overnight, also causing the closure of schools around Frankfurt and elsewhere in Hesse.

Munich airport, Germany's second-largest, reported 113 cancellations and major delays; Duesseldorf and Stuttgart saw more than 20 cancellations each.

Roads were clogged, and in North-Rhine Westphalia state alone authorities reported traffic jams of more than 185km on highways, and 251 weather-related accidents that left 19 people injured.

Officials in the southern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg said there were 108 weather-related accidents that left 17 people injured.

Two men died in a traffic accident in the southern state of Bavaria, according to authorities. The men, 54 and 44 years old, were trying to help a friend pull his car out of snow near Straubing late on Thursday when they were struck by an oncoming car, police said in a statement.

In Hesse state a 40-year-old woman died in a pileup on a highway near Frankfurt, police added.

Trains cancelled

A wave of snow and icy weather was also causing travel problems across Britain, with trains cancelled, schools shut and cars sliding on icy roads.

One motorist in the Scottish city of Aberdeen, Kirsty McCullogh, told BBC radio it had taken her five hours to drive 6.4km.

"It's absolutely awful, the roads are sheet ice - they've not been gritted at all," she said.

Belfast International Airport was closed on Friday morning because of snow, and there were delays and cancellations at other airports including Aberdeen, Birmingham and Luton.

Switzerland's main airport in Zurich also reported delays, and a total of 84 flights were cancelled, spokesperson Sonja Zoechling said. Geneva saw about 20 flight cancellations.

The Italian island of Capri, meanwhile, woke up to its first snowfall in 25 years, said Luciano Garofano, an official in the mayor's office. Street cleaners in the chic tourist destination in the Gulf of Naples doused the town's streets with boiling water to melt the ice. 

Snow covered beaches

Snow also coated beaches on the neighbouring island of Ischia, whose thermal waters attract visitors all year round.

In Denmark, the state postal service reported snow in the past weeks has caused a high number of injuries to the country's 12 000 letter carriers - including broken limbs.

PostDanmark reported 355 carriers have so far been injured since November - compared with a total of 450 during last year's entire winter, the BT newspaper reported.

The postal service has acknowledged that the snow may delay Christmas letters - and most importantly - parcels with presents.

Even where snow is desperately needed, too much of it proved to be a curse: The women's World Cup super-G downhill skiing event in Val d'Isere in south-eastern France was called off due to too heavy snowfall overnight and Friday morning.

- AP
Read more on:    europe  |  weather  |  air travel
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