Expatica news

More Eurostar misery as winter chill brings mayhem

LONDON – Across the rest of northern Europe, one of the most brutal winters in decades caused more travel mayhem with scores of flights cancelled and many roads blocked.

Overnight temperatures dropped to minus 18 degrees Celsius (zero degrees Fahrenheit) in Woodford outside Manchester, northwest England, and in Benson, southern England. Glasgow saw minus nine Celsius, while London minus three.

No major British airports reported closures Thursday with runways open following a day of disruption Wednesday.

But budget airline easyJet scrapped around 80 flights "as a result of severe weather conditions," largely in and out of Gatwick airport, a major hub for holiday charter flights.

British Airways said it had cancelled a number of flights and was experiencing delays due to icy conditions at both Gatwick and London’s bigger Heathrow airport.

In Ireland, Dublin airport, which closed for several hours on Wednesday, operated normally. But there were a number of flight cancellations and delays as some airlines continued to experience knock on effects.

At Orly airport, south of Paris, outgoing flights were cancelled or delayed, and incoming ones diverted, a spokesman for Aeroports de Paris told AFP.

Eurostar faced fresh embarrassment on Thursday when a Brussels to London train had to be towed out of the Channel tunnel after being stuck for around two hours.

Snow and freezing temperatures were blamed for the breakdown last month of several Eurostar trains in the tunnel between Britain and France, which sparked a three-day suspension of the service.

"At first they told us that it was an engine problem," Jonattan Lurasin, 26, from Liege in Belgium, told AFP at London’s Saint Pancras International station. "They tried to restart two or three times, but it didn’t work."

French railway operator SNCF — the biggest shareholder in Eurostar — later blamed the problem on a signal failure in the train driver’s cab.

Eurostar had already cancelled four of its services for a second straight day, due to disruptions caused by cold weather speed limits.

In Britain, electricians worked to restore power to around 5,000 homes in southern England which were left in the dark when snow brought down power lines, said EDF Energy.

Fewer than 3,000 properties remained cut off late Thursday, it said.

Britain’s Met Office weather service said the cold spell was the worst since 1981 and warned of more to come, while the weather led to a number of football games being postponed in England and Scotland.

Children lapped up the chance to spend another day playing in the snow as hundreds of schools that had been due to reopen in Britain and Ireland after the Christmas break remained closed.

Ireland was also hit by severe weather not seen for almost 50 years, with forecasters warning that a thaw was unlikely to come for six or seven days.

Prime Minister Brian Cowen said the military had mobilised staff and equipment in case they were needed and the Irish national emergency committee would meet daily until the severe weather abated.

"Weather of this severity and duration has not been seen since 1963 in many parts of Ireland," Cowen said.

Much of southern France was put on alert for further snowfall and icy conditions, as snow caused traffic problems and several areas announced the suspension of school transport and urged people to limit their movements.

Snow caused the closure of a section of the A9 autoroute linking southwestern France with Barcelona, officials said.

There had also been delays to rail services because ice build-ups forced trains to travel more slowly, a railways spokesman said.

In Austria authorities were on standby amid forecasts of some 50 centimetres of snow at the weekend in low-lying areas which are normally spared much of the regular snowfalls in Alpine districts.

On Thursday, Norway was among the coldest countries, with temperatures ranging from minus 15 to minus 40 degrees Celsius. Oslo had a reduced bus service as engine oil froze, while ice kept ferries from sailing.

The cold snap also hit train services in the Netherlands.

Meanwhile, torrential rain lashed parts of Italy and officials feared the swollen River Tiber could threaten Rome in the coming days.

Thousands of hectares (acres) of land were also flooded in northern Albania and the interior ministry said hundreds of houses, particularly in Shkoder city, were under water and at least 3,000 people had to be evacuated.