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Cars and trucks are blocked in Brouay, near Caen, following a heavy snow fall. Blizzard-like conditions knocked out power to thousands of people in France and left motorists stranded in their cars.
Cars and trucks are blocked in Brouay, near Caen, following a heavy snow fall. Blizzard-like conditions knocked out power to thousands of people in France and left motorists stranded in their cars.

Europe snowstorms disrupt flights, rail services

The snowstorm on Monday and Tuesday, only a few days before the official start of spring on March 20, caused widespread travel chaos with the cancellation of hundreds of flights and the suspension of train services.

PARIS // Icy roads were disrupting transport as northwestern Europe remained in the grip of unseasonable weather yesterday but many services were resuming after a severe late-winter snowstorm.

The snowstorm on Monday and Tuesday, only a few days before the official start of spring on March 20, caused widespread travel chaos with the cancellation of hundreds of flights and the suspension of train services including cross-Channel Eurostar trains. The Eurostar link between London and Paris, the Thalys line between Paris and Brussels and other high-speed connections in northern France resumed running early yesterday, although there were warnings of delays.

After being forced to close briefly, Frankfurt Airport, Europe's third-busiest, said it expected services to progressively return to normal after 812 flights were cancelled on Tuesday.

"[Tuesday] was extreme even for a winter day and will keep weighing on the situation for the next couple of days," said Matthias Nosseck, a spokesman for Fraport AG, the airport's owner. "Things are improving though, as it's stopped snowing."

France was the worst affected by the snowstorm but Belgium, Britain, Germany and the Netherlands also reported major disruptions.

Belgium had a record 1,600 kilometres of traffic jams during morning rush hour as snowdrifts turned roads slippery and reduced vision. A strong wind made conditions even tougher.

Services were returning to normal in France, with the Paris Metro and suburban train services running, though buses were cancelled because of icy road conditions. The sun was shining in Paris, where buildings were covered in a picturesque blanket of snow and a lone cross-country skier was seen on the Champ de Mars near the Eiffel Tower. The temperature was at -5C°, well below seasonal averages. The icy conditions were causing road closures and slowdowns, in particular in the north of France, but highways were gradually opening as snowdrifts were cleared and vehicles stranded during the snowstorm were recovered.

Prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault warned that disruptions could continue for another 48 hours. "I think that things should be better by Friday, at least on the weather front," he said. "The situation is under control, the organisation is at the necessary level."

About 69,000 homes were without power in France yesterday, including about 30,000 that lost electricity after the snowstorm moved south into the Alps.

Temperatures hovered close to freezing in Britain, with snow expected in parts of Scotland and eastern England. Motorways in the south of the country were blocked as lorries were backed up following delays to freight and passenger services through the Channel Tunnel.

In southeastern England, snow and ice stranded hundreds of motorists as temperatures plunged to as low as -3°C, and many motorists abandoned their cars. Traffic backed up for 50 kilometres in some spots, with reports of people being stranded for 10 hours or more.

Among those stuck was a group of 120 German students who had to stay overnight in the town hall at Hastings on the south coast of England when families set to pick them up could not reach them.

Police in Sussex reported responding to more than 300 auto collisions in 24 hours because of slippery roads but no serious injuries were reported. Scores of schools in southeastern England closed because of severe weather.

* With additional reports from the Associated Press and Bloomberg News

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