Northwest Europe cold snap brings transport chaos

18th December 2009, Comments 0 comments

The winter snows resulted in hundreds of kilometres of traffic jams, delay in train and bus services and cancellation of flights in England, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

London – Northwest Europe shivered under the lash of a snowy pre-Christmas cold snap Friday that closed airports, caused chaos on the roads and gave school kids an early start to their holidays.

Two of London's airports were closed overnight after heavy snow fell across south and east England, with at least 18 incoming flights being diverted from Gatwick to other British destinations.

Gatwick reopened after runways were cleared, but London Luton stayed shut. Heathrow, the world's busiest international hub, remained open.

In eastern England, pupils were given an early start to their holidays when schools were closed in Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, where Queen Elizabeth II has also begun her holidays.

The queen's Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, where she arrived Wednesday for the annual Christmas celebrations with the rest of the royal family, was among the regions hit by thick snow.

Hundreds of drivers had to spend the night in their cars in Kent in southeast England, while police in Essex reported 180 accidents overnight.

Police in the worst-hit areas warned people to stay off the roads unless absolutely necessary, as forecasters predicted further heavy snow showers across the southeast on Friday.

The winter snows also caused major disruption in Paris, with officials asking airlines to cancel 30 percent of their flights into and out of the main Charles de Gaulle airport on Friday.

Nine hundred passengers had to spend the night in the airport after their flights were cancelled on Thursday. Officials said there was no available room in nearby hotels. Travellers were given mattresses, bedclothes and food.

Officials said they expected flights schedules to get back to normal later Friday.

The iconic Eiffel Tower was closed to visitors, and train and bus services were delayed in many areas, as daytime temperatures dropped below zero for the first time in the year and black ice coated northern roads.

Snow also fell in Britain, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands and weather experts forecast worse to come, with disruption especially in Scotland and northern England.

The northern Netherlands experienced the worst falls in four years, with snow up to 25 centimetres deep in places, the national weather service said, while all bus services in the region were cancelled.

In Belgium, dozens of flights were cancelled at Brussels international airport after snow falls and ice on runways. Around 30 outbound flights and 70 incoming flights were cancelled, while dozens more were flagged with delays.

"The situation is expected to improve over the morning," an airport spokesman said, noting that two runways were back in operation.

On Thursday, black ice turned Belgian roads into skating rinks, particularly the Brussels ring road and the motorway from the capital to Lille in northern France.

Road traffic, after hundreds of kilometres of jams overnight, had returned virtually to normal early Friday.

Train services were barely affected by the snowfalls, although rail operator Infrabel warned passengers to take particular care of ice on platforms.

In London, bookmakers William Hill lowered the odds on the capital being covered in snow on Christmas Day next Friday to 9/4, from 8/1 ten days ago.

AFP / Expatica

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