Snow hits flights, leaves hundreds 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 Britain national carrier British Airways scrapped all flights at the country's two busiest airports serving London.

All BA flights departing from Heathrow between 1000 GMT and 1700 GMT were cancelled, as were all domestic and European flights from London Gatwick on what is traditionally the busiest weekend for travellers before Christmas.

"Heathrow is open and both runways are clear. However due to the adverse weather there are a number of cancellations and delays," the world's busiest international passenger airport said.

Low-cost carrier easyJet also cancelled all flights from Gatwick, Europe's eighth-busiest passenger airport, between 0600 GMT and 1000 GMT.

Elsewhere, Southampton Airport in southern England was closed until 1200 GMT due to the adverse weather, while flights to certain destinations from Birmingham Airport in the Midlands were also grounded.

Passengers also faced disruptions at Exeter, London City, Aberdeen and Cardiff.

Meanwhile 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.

Temperatures dropped as low as minus 13 degrees Celsius (nine degrees Fahrenheit) in Chesham, just north of London, overnight. Gatwick registered minus 11C (12F).

In Lancashire, northwest England, hundreds of people had to spend the night in their vehicles after an accident blocked the main north-south motorway.

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 with the help of our partners," said the spokesman who expected a large number of delays and cancellations during the day as other European airports were closed.

Some 2,500 passengers were stranded overnight at the airport and German carrier Lufthansa was trying to make arrangements for train travel for many passengers whose domestic flights have been cancelled, said the spokesman.

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.

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 autostrade 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 being sheltered in a conference hall in the Tuscan capital.

The airports of Florence and Pisa were also closed.

In western France several roads were closed as a new snowstorm began to sweep across the country towards Paris, and heavy trucks were barred in many regions.

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.

© 2010 AFP

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