Snow-deprived Europe gets walloped

Fouling traffic and tempers, heavy snow fell on Thursday on much of Europe that had been spared winter’s full fury for weeks, giving Rome and the Mediterranean island of Mallorca a rare white blanket and playing havoc with Switzerland’s famously efficient trains.

Deep snow in Poland stranded Ukraine’s new President, Viktor Yushchenko, in Krakow and forced him to cancel a much-anticipated trip to Brussels, Belgium, for his first address to the European Parliament.

A plane carrying mail from Romania to Hungary crashed in a forest in snowy weather in north-eastern Romania early on Thursday, killing the two pilots, authorities said.

The plane went down near the city of Iasi, Radu Prisacaru, the local government official for the region, told private radio station Radio Total. In the city of Sibiu, meanwhile, a pilot aborted a takeoff to Munich because of a snow-clogged runway.

Whipped by high winds, snow blanketed northern and eastern Romania, closing several highways and cutting power to about 14 villages in the county of Harghita.

Austrian authorities closed key highways to truck traffic on Thursday after more than 200 big rigs became stuck along with hundreds of cars, some still fitted with summer tires.

About 30cm of snow fell on Vienna, the most on a January 27 since 1969, the Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics said.

Classes were cancelled at many schools, and students could be seen lugging snowboards up into the Vienna Woods, which were blanketed by snow for the first time since early December.

In neighbouring Slovakia, heavy snowfall continued on Thursday, tying up traffic throughout the country, and in the Czech Republic, the army was called in to help clear snow from roads in the hard-hit north-east.

Heavy snowstorms left 13 villages in south-west Hungary cut off from the outside world and a number of secondary roads in this region were closed to traffic, state-run news agency MTI reported on Thursday.

Tibor Dobson, spokesperson for the National Catastrophe Agency, said the settlements were accessible by tractors and jeeps only.

Rare snow in Rome

Rome woke up under a light blanket of snow that settled on car roofs and in parks in the higher parts of the city. The rare snowfall in Italy’s capital held up commuter trains coming into the city, delayed by snow on the tracks.

Further south, part of the main highway that runs toward Reggio Calabria on Italy’s toe was closed to traffic, and rescue workers used cranes to free heavy vehicles stuck in the snow, the Ansa news agency reported.

In France, a cold snap broke the previous record for electricity consumption set in January 2003 as chilly homeowners turned up their thermostats.

Winter also arrived with a vengeance in Switzerland, where winds of 172kph were clocked on Wednesday on the peak of La Dole in the Jura mountains north of Geneva, creating blizzard-like conditions.

Even the Swiss trains, famed for their clocklike precision, were affected: the schedule between Geneva and Lausanne was suspended two hours after high winds blew snow on the tracks.

In northern and central Spain, heavy snow blocked roads and isolated hundreds of mountain towns.
Police in the province of Burgos said more than 1 000 people were trapped overnight on a major highway and were temporary housed in sports complexes.

Snow also fell on the usually balmy island of Mallorca, and temperatures plummeted to -14 degrees Celsius in parts of the Pyrenees.

In Montenegro, heavy snow led to the closure of the airport in Podgorica, the capital, and left dozens of cars stranded on the roads.

Authorities said the situation was getting “worse by the hour” and urged people to stay home. Among them was Michael Polt, the United States ambassador to Serbia-Montenegro, who scrapped a visit to Podgorica because of the bad weather.—Sapa-AP

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