London – More than 2,000 passengers spent a chilly and hungry night stranded in the Channel Tunnel linking France and Britain after cold weather caused five trains to break down.
The trains failed as they moved from the freezing air in northern France into the warmer temperatures of the tunnel on Friday evening, operator Eurostar said.
All Eurostar services were suspended until Sunday, causing pre-holiday chaos on one of the busiest travel weekends of the year.
Some passengers complained they were left to fend for themselves when the trains were halted under the English Channel.
Lee Godfrey, who was travelling back to London from Disneyland Paris with his family, said: "We were without power. We ran out of water, we ran out of food and there was very very poor communication from the staff.
"We lost air-conditioning when we lost the power. We had to open the emergency doors ourselves.
"The evacuation procedure we followed was one that we set down ourselves," he told BBC radio, adding that people were "very, very panicky".
He added: "We have had children asleep on the floor, they have been sick. It has been a complete nightmare."
Patrick Dussaut, who was with a group of 40 people from a French company hoping to visit Britain, complained they had been stuck in a Eurostar train since Friday evening and by Saturday lunchtime had still not reached London.
"People have been stuck in the train for 16 and a half hours non-stop, without being able to open the doors," he told AFP by telephone.
"There have been heated arguments between Eurostar staff and passengers who were fed up of being shut inside the trains. On a human level, the management has been catastrophic."
He said some of the passengers intended to refuse to leave the train when it arrived in London, in a protest at the compensation they had been offered — a new return ticket on Eurostar.
Eurostar said the cold weather had forced the suspension of services until Sunday, adding to problems for travellers trying to reach their families for Christmas.
"We have not had a situation like this in 15 years," Eurostar executive Nicolas Petrovic told AFP.
"Five trains broke down in the tunnel between 8.30 pm and 11.30 pm (1930 GMT and 2230 GMT)."
Two thirds of the 2,000 passengers had reached London by mid-morning Saturday, he said.
The company said all the affected trains had been removed from the tunnel, denying reports that one was still stranded on Saturday.
Eurotunnel, which operates a drive-on train service for cars and lorries, said it was resuming services Saturday after it was forced to suspend its trains.
The disruption in the tunnel was the worst since a raging fire on a Eurotunnel train in September 2008 caused a two-day suspension of services.
The problems with the Eurostar trains added to an already difficult situation in Europe as temperatures dropped as low as minus seven degrees Celsius (45 degrees Fahrenheit).
Eurostar’s British train drivers and staff had coincidentally begun a 48-hour strike on Friday.
Ferries between France and Britain were also heavily disrupted by the adverse weather conditions.
The motorway to the main British Channel port of Dover was partly reduced to little more than a parking area for trucks on Saturday.
Police introduced what they call "Operation Stack" to allow more than 2,300 lorries to be parked on sections of the M20 motorway to wait for ferries.
Air passengers also faced delays Saturday because of snow in Britain and elsewhere in Europe. Dozens of flights in and out of Britain were cancelled on Thursday and Friday.
A statement on British Airways’ website said the disruption was "likely to continue into the weekend."
Passengers were advised to check the status of their flights before travelling to airports.
A planned strike by British Airways cabin staff which would have caused widespread disruption over the Christmas period was avoided when a judge this week ruled the action illegal.