Europe Christmas eve chaos as snow strands thousands

25th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

Thousands of travellers were stranded at the main Paris airport Friday after hundreds of Christmas flights were cancelled, as freezing weather and widespread snowfalls caused travel chaos across Europe.

About 400 flights in and out of Roissy-Charles de Gaulle were scrapped, down from an earlier estimate of 670, with flights in Belgium and Germany also affected and motorists staying off the roads as western Europe battled the latest cold snap.

Around 2,000 people had to be evacuated from Charles de Gaulle's Terminal 2E because of a build-up of snow on the roof, a section of which already collapsed in May 2004 shortly after it opened, killing four people.

"I'm so tired that I no longer have the strength to be angry," said Frenchwoman Zoe Stephanou, 45. "My flight to Milan has been cancelled twice. The first when there was no snow."

The cold hit air, rail and road transport across a swathe of Europe, with thousands of travellers forced to spend the night in trains or barracks, on ferries or in airports as the snow piled up.

Improving weather conditions in northern France in the early evening allowed a greater number of flights to leave, and normal service was due to resume on Christmas morning, the airport's operator said.

Between 200 and 300 passengers spent Christmas Eve in Roissy, an airports authority spokesman said, adding that a mass had been organised and toys and chocolates distributed.

French junior transport minister Thierry Mariani told AFP airports were struggling to deal with the third bout of ice this month, a problem compounded by workers at France's main anti-freeze factory at Fos-sur-Mer being on strike.

However, conditions at the airport improved after a planeload of glycol arrived from the United States and a truck transported several tonnes of anti-freeze from Germany.

Pierre Graff, the head of the Aeroports de Paris Authority, said the snow blitz was unprecedented.

"Ever since Roissy came into being, we have never seen anything like this," he told the RTL network.

Around 40 passengers spent the night on a train stuck in the snow in the northern Somme region, with the Red Cross bringing them blankets and hot drinks.

Deep drifts blocked many minor roads in the north and east, and snow also caused power cuts for around 10,000 French households, national grid authority ERDF said.

Between 10 and 20 centimetres (four and eight inches) of snow fell overnight in Belgium, sowing chaos on the roads, with many buses and taxis in the capital Brussels unable to drive on snow-blocked streets and flights delayed.

Belgian trains were hit with severe delays as many railway employees were unable to make it to work, operator Infrabel said.

At Belgium's main airport in Brussels, only one runway was usable and many flights were delayed, with the defence ministry supplying camp beds for stranded passengers.

More snow was expected across Germany, after several trains ground to a halt overnight as service was cut between Hanover and Berlin, the national railway Deutsche Bahn said.

The country's third largest airport, in Duesseldorf, was shut down early Friday, a spokeswoman for flag carrier Lufthansa told AFP, although it reopened in the afternoon.

Two municipal swimming pool roofs collapsed under the weight of the snow, without causing any casualties, in the city of Aachen near the Belgian and Dutch borders.

Police said a 47-year-old woman was killed when a snow laden branch fell on her in a forest in northwestern Germany.

Hundreds of tourists on the Danish island of Bornholm were forced to spend the night in an army barracks or on the ferry after heavy snow overnight.

In Britain, where heavy snow last week caused widespread transport chaos, meteorologists warned of further snow and widespread icy roads in northeast England and eastern Scotland.

Train services were disrupted across large parts of the country, hitting travellers heading home for Christmas, although Heathrow airport was largely back to normal after the chaos of recent days.

In Ireland, Dublin airport reopened Friday after being closed for much of Thursday, stranding about 40,000 passengers.


© 2010 AFP

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