Flood chaos in Balkans as Europe begins to thaw

5th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

An early cold snap slowly released Europe from its icy grip Sunday after days of mayhem and dozens of deaths, but floods displaced thousands in the Balkans and chaos still hit Spanish airports.

In northern Albania, more than 11,000 people were evacuated after a week of torrential rains in the region turned roads into raging torrents of water and left some 14,000 hectares (35,000 acres) of farmland under water.

The only way in and out of the town of Shkodra was by boat or helicopter, with streets under two metres (6.5 feet) of water and Albania calling for outside help for the 1,500 police and army working around the clock.

"The situation is very difficult," Albanian President Bamir Topi said.

Authorities fear that fresh heavy rains could raise water levels further and overwhelm water-gates at hydro-electric power plants. Turkey has sent three helicopters and Greece two.

Elsewhere temperatures inched higher after a week of bitterly cold weather killed more than sixty people, most of them in Central Europe.

But temperatures remained below freezing point in many areas, and the deaths overnight of a man and a woman aged around 50 in Prague brought the number of killed in the cold snap to six in the Czech capital.

Britain, shivering in the earliest widespread snowfalls of winter since 1993, was one of the countries worst affected with two of its major transport hubs scrapping all flights last week.

By Sunday milder weather had caused the snow to disappear completely in some areas, and the situation on the roads, railways and at airports was much improved. But forecasters warned that temperatures would fall again this week.

In one pub in Blakey Ridge, northern England, five employees snowed in for the past eight days were hoping to be liberated later on Sunday, with the novelty of the situation having long worn off.

"We have had people phoning up asking to get trapped in, but it's kind of boring now and I would like to go home," said Daniel Butterworth, one of those in the enforced lock-in.

There have also been several days of chaos at Spanish airports, although this time the weather was not to blame but a wildcat strike by air traffic controllers that closed national airspace for a time.

On Sunday hundreds of thousands of passengers still packed the airports as flights resumed after the first national state of alert since 1975 saw the army put the controllers back to work.

The strike hit an estimated 300,000 passengers on a long holiday weekend, whipping up the most chaotic scenes since an Icelandic volcano erupted in April and halted 100,000 flights worldwide.

In Germany, temperatures rose to just above freezing in many areas, particularly in low-lying areas in the north, but authorities warned motorists of black ice as temperatures plummet again overnight.

In Austria, temperatures of minus 10 Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit) were recorded in the east of the temperature, but milder weather and rain were forecast. Authorities in the state of Tyrol issued avalanche warnings.

The situation also became less critical in Belgium, allowing roads, railways and airports slowly to return to normal, but in the neighbouring Netherlands 500-1,000 transit passengers spent the night at Amsterdam-Schiphol airport.

In Portugal, around 20 secondary roads remained unpassable in the northern mountainous regions.

© 2010 AFP

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