Snow hits flights, leaves hundreds of drivers stranded

18th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

Heavy snow disrupted European air travel Saturday and stranded hundreds of drivers in their cars as far south as Italy as a white Christmas appeared increasingly likely for many places.

In hard-hit Britain, London Heathrow closed both runways to clear the snow, while London Gatwick reopened after a 140-strong team removed 10 centimetres (four inches) of snow from the tarmac.

Flag carrier British Airways cancelled all short-haul departures from both airports, with all long-haul flights from Heathrow scrapped until 1900 GMT and until 1700 GMT at Gatwick.

"We are keeping the situation under review and will make a decision regarding long-haul flights as soon as possible," said a BA spokesman.

Heathrow, the world's busiest international airport, said its runways were closed "to allow snow clearing and to keep the airport safe.

Flights were also grounded at Stansted and Luton airports near London, at Birmingham airport in Britain's second city and Southampton airport for at least part of the day.

Eurostar, which operates high-speed passenger trains linking London with Paris and Brussels, was operating with speed restrictions that added up to an hour on journey times.

Four people were killed in traffic accidents across Britain caused by the weather.

Heavy snowfall also played havoc with the weekend's sporting calendar, with Sunday's crunch English Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester United called off.

Frankfurt airport, Germany's busiest, cancelled about 170 flights on Saturday because of the severe winter weather across Europe, an airport spokesman said.

On Friday 560 out of 1,400 flights had been cancelled for the same reason, but Frankfurt's runways were open on Saturday morning.

"We are trying to control the situation," said the spokesman who expected a large number of delays and cancellations during the day as other European airports were closed.

German carrier Lufthansa advised passengers to take the train rather than fly, saying tickets for flights could be used on the railways.

But German rail operator Deutsche Bahn warned that the snowfall would also lead to delays and cancellations.

Dozens of flights were also cancelled at Amsterdam's Schiphol, where some 3,000 people were forced to spend the night in the airport, the press office said.

Budapest's Ferihegy airport closed in the afternoon after heavy snowfall made the runways unusable, but has since reopened, the airport's operator said in a statement.

In Italy, the Tuscany region was hardest hit, with hundreds of cars stuck on highways around Florence, where up to 20 centimetres (eight inches) of snow fell.

Motorists criticised authorities for not making it clear that the motorways were blocked, so that more and more vehicles became trapped.

High-speed trains between Milan, Florence and Rome were also cancelled, leaving some 5,000 passengers sheltering in a conference hall in the Tuscan capital.

Florence airport closed until mid-afternoon, while the airport at Pisa, which is used by low-cost airlines, was likely to remain closed until Sunday.

About a quarter of flights from the main Paris Charles de Gaulle hub will be cancelled on Sunday between 0700 and 1500 GMT, while 60 percent of flights were delayed on Saturday, the French civil aviation authority said.

In the Bordeaux region five people were hurt on a motorway when a 38-tonne truck ploughed into two vans whose drivers had lost control on black ice, and then caught fire. A fourth vehicle then crashed into the wreckage.

The snowfall even reached as far south as Algeria, where two people died in a road accident and traffic ground to a halt on several major roads.

The city of Tizi Ouzou reported 30 centimetres of snow, causing electricity and telephone failures, authorities said.

The snowstorm that has brought the chaos is moving slowly south across Europe, but the cold weather is expected to continue in much of the continent on Sunday and into next week.

© 2010 AFP

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