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Heavy snow, cold disrupt travel across north Europe

Posted by Admin on December 20, 2010

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20101220/ts_nm/us_europe_weather;_ylt=A0wNcwclew9NJY8ApFB34T0D;_ylu=X3oDMTJtN2Y2YWExBGFzc2V0A25tLzIwMTAxMjIwL3VzX2V1cm9wZV93ZWF0aGVyBHBvcwM3BHNlYwN5bl9hcnRpY2xlX3N1bW1hcnlfbGlzdARzbGsDaGVhdnlzbm93Y29s

BERLIN (Reuters) – Snow and frigid temperatures caused disruption across northern Europe for a third day on Monday, stranding travelers, snarling traffic and shutting schools, and the bad weather is likely to run through Christmas.

More than 1,000 flights at German airports in Frankfurt, Munich and Berlin were canceled and more delayed after up to 40 cm (16 inches) of fresh snow blanketed the country. Some 500 stranded passengers slept on cots at Frankfurt airport.

Airlines advised passengers to switch to trains if possible after the new snow added to two week’s worth of accumulation. But rail operator Deutsche Bahn, struggling to cope with packed trains and a crush of passengers, urged passengers to stay home.

Tempers flared as Germans accustomed to timely trains and planes were forced to wait in freezing stations or packed terminals, and the unusually heavy snow delayed millions.

“The trains are always too late now,” said Lothar Ast, 57, a custodian shivering in a Berlin station. “They’re so crowded that you can’t get on and then you have to wait for another.”

Dorothea Fuerst, a Berlin sales clerk, added: “No one knows if the train will come or not. The train never arrives on time. Will it be 15 minutes or half an hour? That’s the question.”

Children’s sledges were sold out in Germany, retailers said.

“This much snow is only fun if you’re a kid,” said Berlin lawyer Katja-Julia Fischer, 42: “It’s getting on my nerves.”

Germany’s most populous state, North-Rhine Westphalia, took the unusual step of banning trucks from motorways in a bid to keep passenger traffic rolling. A rail worker was killed in Berlin, run over by a train while trying to de-ice a switch.

While Britain and Scandinavia were still anticipating temperatures below freezing for much of this week, most of Europe is forecast to warm up in the next days, although a drop back to sub-zero levels may return next week.

MAJOR DISRUPTION

Belgium also closed its motorways to truck traffic after there was a peak of 600 km of traffic jams at the height of the rush hour on Monday morning in the Wallonia region.

In the United Kingdom, British Airways said the severe weather continued to cause major disruption to operations and further travel chaos was possible on forecasts of more snow.

Only one of two runways at London Heathrow, the world’s busiest international airport, was operating after the snowstorm paralyzed the airport over the weekend, stranding thousands.

Brandi Gonzalez, 27, a pre-school teacher from Connecticut, has been waiting since Friday to fly to New York with her husband and son but was stranded at Heathrow on Monday.

“All I’m getting is ‘We will help you as much as we can’. It’s a two-hour wait on the phone to rebook a flight. Today I sat on the phone for two hours to get hung up on. They said ‘We still don’t have another flight’ and I got hung up on.”

Other UK airports were open, but many flights were canceled or subject to long delays, and many passengers spent another night at an airport terminal.

Clarrie Yap, 22, a student from Canada, was flying to Hong Kong via London but has been stuck in London since Friday.

“It’s depressing seeing everyone stay at the airport,” she said. “They could have staff members or crew at the counters so we could ask questions, at least know what’s going on.”

The severe weather has hit retailers at the height of Christmas trading. Britain’s biggest department store chain, John Lewis, said sales fell more than 10 percent on Saturday, while France’s Auchan said its business was being affected.

Some online retailers are not accepting new orders or are cancelling existing ones because of delivery problems, according to industry body IMRG.

Northern France was also covered by heavy snow, disrupting road and rail traffic as Parisians braved clogged highways to reach their holiday destinations.

France’s army deployed blue armored personnel carriers on highways around Paris where they used their horsepower to drag stranded cars out of ditches and back onto the road.

In Paris, whitened lawns in front of the Eiffel Tower delighted children, who made snowmen. Snowboarders even took to the hills of northern Paris, an unusual sight in a city known for its rainy, temperate weather.

Air travel was reduced at Paris’s two main airports, with Orly airport shutting down briefly and stranded travelers still camping out in the waiting areas at Charles de Gaulle.

Train travel between Paris, London and Brussels on the Eurostar line was disrupted, partly because of speed restrictions, the company said on its website, adding that sales were closed for travel up to and including December 24.

Dutch motorists were coping with icy and slippery roads, prompting government authorities to impose speed limits of 50 kilometers per hour on various motorways as a large number of accidents contributed to lengthy traffic jams.

In Poland, hard hit by the cold snap, six people froze to death on Sunday night, raising the death toll to 114 in the last month.

Heavy snow snarled Warsaw traffic again on Monday. Warsaw airport was open but was receiving far fewer passengers than usual because of flight cancellations in western Europe.

(Additional reporting by Olesya Dmitracova and Stefano Ambrogi in London, Nick Vinocur in Paris, Gabriela Baczynska in Warsaw, Ben Deighton in Brussels, Michelle Martin in Frankfurt and Eric Kelsey in Berlin; editing by Tim Pearce)

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