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Christmas eve chaos as snow strands thousands in Europe

Thousands of travellers were stranded at Paris' main airport today after hundreds of Christmas flights were cancelled, as freezing weather and widespread snowfalls caused travel chaos across Europe.

world Updated: Dec 24, 2010 19:41 IST

Thousands of travellers were stranded at Paris' main airport on Friday after hundreds of Christmas flights were cancelled, as freezing weather and widespread snowfalls caused travel chaos across Europe.

At least 670 flights in and out of Paris' main hub Roissy-Charles de Gaulle were scrapped, with flights in Belgium and Germany also affected and motorists staying off the roads as western Europe battled the latest cold snap.

Around 2,000 people had to be evacuated from Charles de Gaulle's Terminal 2E because of the build-up of snow on the roof, a section of which already collapsed in May 2004 shortly after it opened, killing six people.

"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.

"Unfortunately it seems likely that some people will spend their night at Roissy," French junior transport minister Thierry Mariani told AFP. "How many, I don't know... it's impossible to say."

He said airports were struggling to deal with the third bout of ice this month, a problem compounded by workers at France's main anti-freeze factory at Fos-sur-Mer being on strike.

While rail operator SNCF said all Christmas trains would be running, around 40 passengers spent the night on a train stuck in the snow in the northern Somme region, with the Red Cross bringing them blankets and hot drinks.

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.

Hundreds of plane passengers at Charleroi spent the night at the airport or in the hotel after their flights were cancelled.

In Germany, the country's third largest airport in Duesseldorf was shut down on Friday, a spokeswoman for the flag carrier Lufthansa told AFP, although it was expected to reopen in the afternoon.

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

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.

"Bornholm police ask people not to move around. Heading off on foot outside built-up areas is deadly dangerous and we ask people to stay at home," they said in a statement.

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 on Friday after being closed for much of Thursday, stranding about 40,000 passengers.

Snow and ice crews worked overnight to clear about 120,000 tonnes of snow from the runway, a statement from the airport said.

The cold snap also hampered travel in the Netherlands, although police there said snow had helped them follow and arrest burglars as well as arrest cannabis growers, identified thanks to attic growing lights melting rooftop snow.

First Published: Dec 24, 2010 19:38 IST