Xmas chaos in Europe as snow strands thousands

December 25, 2010 12:00 am

, PARIS, Dec 25 – Thousands of travellers were stranded at the main Paris airport Saturday after hundreds of Christmas flights were cancelled, as freezing weather and widespread snowfalls caused travel chaos across Europe.

About 400 flights in and out of Roissy-Charles de Gaulle were scrapped, with some 30,000 travellers plans disrupted by the cancellations and delays, said the airport\’s director Patrice Hardel.

Flights in Belgium and Germany were also affected and motorists stayed off the roads as western Europe battled the latest cold snap.

"Since Roissy came into being, we\’ve never seen anything like this," Pierre Graff, the head of Aeroports de Paris, the group that runs the airport, told RTL radio.

The snow that had hit the airport and the freezing weather was "exceptional", he added.

In all, 400 flights were cancelled Friday at Roissy, said a civil aviation spokesman, which was at least three times fewer than originally feared.

They expected to return to normal Saturday as the weather improved, but for many passengers their Christmases had been ruined.

While local people had returned to their homes and other travellers stayed in nearby hotels, either at their own expense or that of their airline, there were still 200 passengers stuck at the airport itself early Saturday.

They were seeing in Christmas on camp beds and under blankets.

That was nevertheless down from the 2,000 forced to sleep there overnight Thursday and who were evacuated Friday from the airport\’s Terminal 2E because of a build-up of snow on the roof.

The collapse of a section of that terminal\’s roof in May 2004 shortly after it opened, killed four people.

The remaining stranded passengers were handed out meals and the children received a visit — and presents — from Father Christmas.

Junior transport minister Thierry Mariani visited exhausted travellers at the airport just before midnight on Christmas Eve, a night after his boss Transport Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet.

He told AFP airports were struggling to deal with the third bout of ice this month, a problem compounded by a strike by workers at France\’s main anti-freeze factory.

However, conditions at the airport improved after a planeload of glycol arrived from the United States and a truck transported several tonnes of anti-freeze from Germany.

"I\’m so tired that I no longer have the strength to be angry," said Frenchwoman Zoe Stephanou, 45. "My flight to Milan has been cancelled twice. The first when there was no snow."

The cold hit air, rail and road transport across a swathe of Europe, with thousands of travellers forced to spend the night in trains or barracks, on ferries or in airports as the snow piled up.

In France\’s northern Somme region meanwhile, around 40 passengers spent the night on a train stuck in the snow, with the Red Cross bringing them blankets and hot drinks.

Deep drifts blocked many minor roads in the north and east, and snow also caused power cuts for around 10,000 French households, national grid authority ERDF said.

Between 10 and 20 centimetres (four and eight inches) of snow fell overnight in Belgium, sowing chaos on the roads, with many buses and taxis in the capital Brussels unable to drive on snow-blocked streets and flights delayed.

Belgian trains were hit with severe delays as many railway employees were unable to make it to work, operator Infrabel said.

At Belgium\’s main airport in Brussels, only one runway was usable and many flights were delayed, with the defence ministry supplying camp beds for stranded passengers.

More snow was expected across Germany, after several trains ground to a halt overnight as service was cut between Hanover and Berlin, the national railway Deutsche Bahn said.

The country\’s third largest airport, in Duesseldorf, was shut down early Friday, a spokeswoman for flag carrier Lufthansa told AFP, although it reopened in the afternoon.

Two municipal swimming pool roofs collapsed under the weight of the snow, without causing any casualties, in the city of Aachen near the Belgian and Dutch borders.

Police said a 47-year-old woman was killed when a snow laden branch fell on her in a forest in northwestern Germany.

Hundreds of tourists on the Danish island of Bornholm were forced to spend the night in an army barracks or on the ferry after heavy snow overnight.

In Britain, where heavy snow last week caused widespread transport chaos, meteorologists warned of further snow and widespread icy roads in northeast England and eastern Scotland.

Train services were disrupted across large parts of the country, hitting travellers heading home for Christmas, although Heathrow airport was largely back to normal after the chaos of recent days.

In Ireland, Dublin airport reopened Friday after being closed for much of Thursday, stranding about 40,000 passengers.


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