, LONDON, Dec 2 – Heavy snowfalls forced some of Europe\’s busiest airports to close and wreaked havoc on roads and railways Wednesday as an unseasonable cold snap swept the continent, claiming at least 15 lives.
Temperatures dropped to as low as minus 18 degrees Celsius (minus 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit) in some parts of Germany, while driving rain in Italy triggered the collapse of two Roman walls in Pompeii and flooding in Venice.
Thirteen people died of exposure in central Europe, including eight in Poland. Most were under the influence of alcohol, according to police.
Two people died in England in accidents blamed on the weather, one in a motorcycle crash and the other after falling into a freezing lake.
Albania meanwhile proclaimed a state of natural disaster in the north due to heavy floods, and more than 200 people were evacuated from the region near Shkodra as hundreds of houses filled with water.
Transport chaos hit the whole of the continent as the snow spread, and Britain — shivering in the earliest widespread snowfalls of winter since 1993 — was one of the countries worst affected.
London Gatwick Airport, Europe\’s eighth busiest passenger air hub, said it would remain shut until at least 1000 GMT Thursday as staff worked to clear the runways.
Edinburgh Airport, Scotland\’s busiest, was also shut and delays were reported at airports in Glasgow and Aberdeen in Scotland, Newcastle in northeast England and Jersey in the Channel Islands.
British forecasters said Wednesday had been the coldest December 1 on record, with no hope of a let-up in the coming days.
Eurostar, which operates high-speed passenger trains linking London with Paris and Brussels, said it would cancel half of its services Thursday, following delays of up to 90 minutes and some cancellations on Wednesday.
Heavy snowfall also forced the closure of Geneva International Airport where 100 stranded passengers had to spend the night in the terminal. Two hundred others were sheltered by the civil protection unit as hotels were fully booked.
Switzerland\’s Basel airport shut its runway in order to clear off 10 cm (four inches) of snow that accumulated in just over two hours. The country\’s biggest airport Zurich was still operating, although 70 flights had been cancelled due to bad weather conditions in other airports.
At Germany\’s Frankfurt airport, Europe\’s third busiest, 153 flights were cancelled, all due to flights not arriving from elsewhere.
And 250 flights were cancelled at Munich airport, nearly a quarter of the daily total, mostly due to snow preventing takeoffs.
In the Paris area, French aviation authorities asked airlines to cancel 25 percent of their flights at Roissy airport and 10 percent at Orly because of expected snowfalls. But there were no flight cancellations Wednesday.
Snow and freezing temperatures however forced authorities to cancel 116 flights from Lyon airport.
In Britain about one-third of all rail services either suffered delays or cancellations at midday Wednesday, and more than 1,500 schools were closed.
There were widespread problems on the roads across Europe, including in France where 17,200 trucks had to abandon their journeys nationwide.
Part of the motorway orbiting London was shut and there were severe delays on north-south routes, while serious accidents were reported on the main road between Prague and the eastern Czech city of Brno.
In Italy snowfalls disrupted traffic in city centres and on motorways in the northern Lombardy and Piedmont regions, and in Spain school transport services were disrupted by heavy snow in northern and central regions.
Bild newspaper said it was the coldest December 1 in several hundred years, with temperatures as low as minus 18C in some places.
Eight people have died of exposure in Poland, three in the Czech Republic and two in Lithuania, officials said Wednesday.
In Italy two ancient Roman walls fell down in the archaeological site of Pompeii due to persistent heavy rains that wore away the ancient mortar between the stones.