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Snow batters Europe as Britain grinds to a halt

Fresh snowfalls swept northern Europe, shutting down airports, blocking roads and forcing Eurostar international rail service cancellations, as forecasters warned of more to come today.

world Updated: Dec 03, 2010 10:01 IST

Fresh snowfalls swept northern Europe, shutting down airports, blocking roads and forcing Eurostar international rail service cancellations, as forecasters warned of more to come Friday.

The unseasonable cold snap, which has lasted nearly a week, has brought Britain grinding to a halt, with thousands of schools closed and commuters stranded as rail services were cancelled and icy roads deemed unsafe.

Gatwick Airport, Britain's second busiest airport after Heathrow, closed for a second consecutive day, sparking outrage at the nation's apparent inability to cope with the cold.

The London airport said it hoped to reopen early Friday, but warned travellers to expect further delays and disruption.

Ministers have promised a review of how the transport network is coping, as newspapers said Britain had become a "laughing stock" abroad, but pointed out that the rest of Europe was also faring badly as temperatures plummeted.

Eurostar, which runs trains between London and Paris and Brussels, cancelled more than 20 trains Thursday and said it would operate a significantly reduced service until Sunday. Geneva international airport only reopened Thursday morning after heavy snow caused it to close for a day and a half, but its schedule was still subject to heavy delays.

Flights resumed at Dublin Airport late Thursday after it was closed to allow snow and ice to be cleared from the runways.

Dozens of flights were cancelled or delayed at airports in Paris, Prague and Frankfurt -- one of Europe's key hubs. The freezing weather has claimed 28 lives across central Europe this week, including 18 deaths since Tuesday in Poland, mostly of homeless men, as temperatures there plunged to minus 33 degrees Celsius (minus 27 Fahrenheit).

Snow storms that have swept the continent in recent days intensified in many places Thursday, including in London, where the first proper falls of the season left landmarks such as the British Museum covered in a layer of white. But the pretty pictures belied the misery felt by many commuters stuck as services into the capital failed, a situation condemned as "unacceptable" by Jo deBank, communications officer for rail passenger watchdog London TravelWatch.

Many Britons gave up -- one survey suggested that two in five staff across Britain were not able to get to work on Thursday morning, while a similar number were late arriving. Insurer RSA estimated that the bad weather could cost the British economy up to 1.2 billion pounds (1.9 billion dollars, 2.3 billion euros) a day.

In Germany, Berlin woke up to more than 10 centimetres (four inches) of snow, while almost 40 centimetres fell in Gera in the southeast, causing disruptions on train services and the closure of numerous roads. Forecasters warned temperatures were likely to fall even further overnight Thursday, plunging as low as minus 20 degrees Celsius in Brandenburg, the region surrounding the German capital.

Danish officials meanwhile sent out the army in armoured cars to transport patients, as well as the frail and elderly, to hospitals to the south of Copenhagen after heavy snowfall cut off normal traffic.

Tuesday was the coldest in Denmark for 120 years, dropping to minus 22 Celsius in the northwest. In the northern French region of Normandy, snow measured 60 centimetres near the city of Cherbourg, the biggest snowfall in more than 40 years. In the western Balkans, heavy rain caused flooding in Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, with more than 1,000 people evacuated from their homes, local media said.

While most of Europe shivered, residents of the Bulgarian capital Sofia enjoyed a seasonal heatwave with temperatures topping 21 degrees Celsius, while unseasonably high temperatures were also recorded in Greece.

First Published: Dec 03, 2010 09:57 IST