Arctic blast causes European travel chaos
Icy roads paralysed much of the Paris region Thursday after the heaviest snow in a quarter of a century, while harsh weather in Germany hit flights and prompted major delays in rail travel.
French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux asked drivers not to travel unless absolutely necessary the day after 11 centimetres (more than four inches) of snow fell on Paris, the most in one day since 1987.
He said around 1,000 motorists had to spend the night snow-bound in their cars, although that figure paled in comparison with the 60,000 who slept in their cars during a 2003 blizzard.
Thousands spent the night at Charles de Gaulle airport, France's main international hub, after their flights were cancelled, and thousands more stranded motorists were put up in municipal halls and school sports halls around the Paris region.
Police late Wednesday barred trucks from travelling on roads in the Paris region, with around 3,000 lorries stuck on northern French motorways headed for the capital.
But lorries were allowed to take to the road again by late afternoon Thursday as road conditions began to improve.
There were flight delays and cancellations at Charles de Gaulle because of icy runways and fuel trucks' inability to get to planes, Air France said, advising passengers to check their flight status ahead of time.
Flights during the day were delayed up to two hours, airport authorities said late Thursday but the situation was slowly getting back to normal.
The Eiffel Tower reopened after ice forced its closure on Wednesday.
Amid rising public anger at the authorities' perceived inability to deal with the situation, Hortefeux postponed a trip to Morocco and said he would send experts to other European cities to see how they deal with snow and ice.
Prime Minister Francois Fillon, on a visit to Russia, accused the Meteo France weather service of having "failed to forecast the snow and in any case not its intensity" thereby catching clearing services by surprise.
In Germany heavy snowfall sparked chaos in the country's transport networks, with hundreds of flights cancelled and major delays for rail passengers, authorities said.
Wintry conditions prompted the shutdown of Frankfurt international airport, Germany's busiest, from 2100 GMT Wednesday to about 0100 GMT Thursday, a spokeswoman said, leading to a major backlog throughout the day.
Nearly 3,000 people were stranded in Frankfurt and slept at nearby hotels or the airport itself, where beds were set up. Of the nearly 1,400 flights scheduled Thursday, 400 were cancelled.
"The situation is slowly getting back to normal," the spokeswoman said. "The snowfall has stopped and our runways are clear."
The airport reported 15 centimetres (six inches) of snow Thursday afternoon.
In Berlin where snow averaged 17 centimetres (more than six inches) some 200 flights were scrapped at the two main international airports, about one-third of those scheduled, a spokesman said.
Train travel was hit by major delays, with high-speed trains forced to slow to 160 kilometres (100 miles) per hour from the 250 kilometres per hour in normal conditions, the state-owned rail company said.
Snow and ice on the roads provoked thousands of accidents and major traffic jams on the autobahns, including a 40-kilometre- (25-mile-)long bottleneck in the central state of Thuringia.
Britain also suffered from the early cold snap that descended on Europe, with Scotland the worst hit by the snow and ice that paralysed many roads earlier in the week.
"It is the most widespread heavy snow in Britain in November since 1965. The weather in December has continued on a similar note," said a spokesman for the Met Office, the national forecasters for Britain.
Neige: fin de pagaille
© 2010 AFP