Snowfall brings Europe to a standstill

2013-03-12 18:32
A wheel loader cleans the tarmac at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany. (Arne Dedert, AP)

A wheel loader cleans the tarmac at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany. (Arne Dedert, AP)

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Paris - Frankfurt's airport closed, trains stopped running under the English Channel, and the French army was ordered to help clear roads — all because of a sudden dump of oddly late snowfall on Western Europe.

Less prepared for the kind of heavy snow that regularly hits northern and eastern neighbours, France, Germany, Britain and Belgium struggled on Tuesday to keep moving amid the frosty, blustery conditions.

Instead of enjoying the onset of spring, travellers shivered in stranded cars, packed onto icy train platforms, or languished in airport waiting halls.

Thousands of schoolchildren stayed home. Tens of thousands of homes were without electricity.

Frankfurt airport, Europe's third busiest, closed at midday after recording about 12cm of snow. More than 355 flights had been cancelled by mid-afternoon.

The airport reopened one of its four runways only for takeoffs after a brief respite in the snowfall - but the snow then resumed. And it's unclear how much longer the other three runways would remain closed.

North of Frankfurt, the A45 autobahn was shut down after more than 100 cars and trucks crashed in a pileup near Müenzenberg.

Police said dozens of people were injured but that no deaths were reported.

At Paris' Orly Airport, a Tunisair jet skidded off the runway because of icy conditions, according to the airport authority.

No one was injured, but the incident caused even further delays at an airport that has suffered cancellations and problems all day.

Air France - the country's largest passenger airline - warned via Twitter that anyone planning to travel to Europe or France via Paris on Tuesday should delay their trip.

Airport screens flashed with red warnings after the French civil aviation authority ordered about 300 flights - a quarter of the day's total - cancelled out of Paris' Charles de Gaulle Airport.

Other airports in northern France were closed, and Brussels' airport was operating on a single runway.

Eurostar suspended

Service on the Eurostar trains that go under the English Channel was suspended mid-morning because severe weather in northern France and Belgium forced operators to close sections of the railway, said Eurostar spokesperson Lucy Drake.

As the snow continued to fall in the afternoon, service was suspended for the rest of the day, Eurostar later confirmed on its website.

Other high-speed train services around the region were also halted.

The French army was called in to help as civilian authorities struggled to clear roads and rescue people stuck in cars and buses on snowed-in roads, notably in Normandy, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said on RTL radio.

With up to 50cm of snow in some areas of northern France, the government urged people to stay home unless absolutely necessary.

The French housing ministry, meanwhile, said it will prolong until the end of March the winter-long ban on tenant evictions — owing to the biting weather conditions.

Office buildings in the French capital — like those in Brussels, the European Union's capital - were only partly full.

The French train network SNCF urged commuters in the Paris region to stay home on Tuesday instead of trying to reach downtown "because of the unfavourable evolution of weather conditions”.

Motorists stranded

In south-eastern England, snow and ice stranded hundreds of motorists as temperatures plunged as low as minus 3°C, and many motorists abandoned their cars.

Traffic backed up for 50km in some areas, with reports of people being stranded for 10 hours or more.

Among those stuck was a group of 120 German students who had to stay overnight in the town hall at Hastings on the south coast of England when families set to pick them up could not reach them.

Police in Sussex reported responding to more than 300 auto collisions in 24 hours because of slippery roads but no serious injuries were reported.

Belgium had a record 1 600km of traffic jams during morning rush hour as snowdrifts turned roads slippery and reduced vision.

A strong wind made conditions even tougher. Thousands of commuters were left stranded on snowed-in platforms after many trains around the region were cancelled.

Snow affected even the workings of government and the royal palace: The start of budgetary negotiations within Belgium's governing coalition was delayed, and Prince Lorenz was unable to travel to Maastricht, the Netherlands, to visit a historical exhibition.

The US Embassy in Brussels closed for the day "due to the continued weather conditions”.

Under the Eiffel Tower, two Canadian tourists were among those braving the soggy chill.

"It's cold. Really cold," Heidi Nelson of Toronto said.

A fellow visitor from Toronto, Laura Martin, added: "Yes, kind of like Canada."

- AP
Read more on:    germany  |  belgium  |  uk  |  france  |  weather
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