Fresh snow shuts down British airports, trains

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Britain's transport links with the rest of the world were disrupted by the early winter snowfall as key airports closed Wednesday and international Eurostar train services were cut.

London Gatwick Airport, Europe's eighth busiest passenger air hub, was closed until at least 6:00 am (0600 GMT) Thursday as staff worked on clearing the two runways.

Amid the earliest widespread snowfall of a British winter since 1993, Edinburgh Airport, Scotland's busiest, was shut again due to heavy snow showers overnight, while London City Airport had cancellations and delays.

A spokeswoman for Gatwick said they had about six inches (15 centimetres) of snow to clear.

"We brought in extra people to try to clear the runway. We had a vast army of people. But as fast as they were clearing the snow, the quicker it settled again," she said.

Eurostar, which operates high-speed passenger trains linking London with Paris and Brussels, said precautionary speed restrictions would result in delays, with the knock-on effect that some services would be cancelled.

Two trains between London and Brussels and four between London and Paris were scrapped, with further cancellations planned for Thursday.

Across the country, train services between major cities like Liverpool and Sheffield were unable to run, while commuter services into London were also facing severe disruption.

Key trunk roads nationwide were also blocked. On the M25, the London orbital motorway, the eastern bridge over the River Thames was shut, while sections of the route were also blocked.

There were severe delays on the M1 and A1 main routes linking London with the north.

In Scotland, the Forth Road Bridge connecting Edinburgh with the north was closed.

An overnight low of minus 19.8 degrees Celsius (minus 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) was recorded in Altnaharra in the Scottish Highlands, with temperatures expected to remain below freezing across Scotland on Wednesday.

The joint lowest temperature ever recorded in Britain -- minus 27.2C (minus 17F) -- was set at Altnaharra.

Hundreds of schools across Britain remained closed.

Forecasters warned that the weather would not improve until Friday, with more snow to come over the weekend.

Between four and six inches (10 and 15 centimetres) of snow was predicted to fall in higher areas.

Insurer RSA estimated that the bad weather could cost the British economy up to 1.2 billion pounds (1.9 billion dollars, 2.3 billion euros) a day, with retailers and the restaurant and bar industries likely to be the worst affected.

RSA director David Greaves said: "Bad weather in the run-up to Christmas will have a major impact on the UK's economy and could lead to significant losses for already struggling businesses."

© 2010 AFP

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