Cold spell brings chaos to Europe

An early winter cold spell brought heavy snowfall to parts of Europe over the weekend, paralysing public transport and roadways, toppling trees and cutting electricity to tens of thousands of households. Several people died in car crashes caused by the freezing weather conditions.

Ski slopes in Belgium and Germany opened early after as much as 30cm of snow fell overnight in some countries, while in Paris, the Eiffel Tower closed to the public for four hours after a morning snowfall made it too slippery to climb.

The winter storm hit hard in The Netherlands, where high winds and sudden freezing temperatures caused havoc on the national rail and road networks. Hundreds of stranded Dutch commuters spent Friday night in temporary Red Cross shelters at train stations, theatres and more than a dozen other locations.

Road-traffic officials reported the worst gridlock in the country’s history, with hundreds more people sleeping in their cars after waiting up to 10 hours alongside highways.
Elsewhere, tens of thousands were still without electricity on Saturday after ice and snow snapped power lines.

Dutch traffic authorities warned drivers to stay off the roads as up to 3cm of snow fell per hour. Roads and railways were also blocked by fallen trees and bus companies cancelled services as winds of up to 170kph swept in off the North Sea.

The winter storm was caused by a low pressure zone over Western Europe, which brought the most sudden drop in air pressure in decades, the National Weather Institute said. The worst had passed by Saturday afternoon, but warnings were issued for continuing ice and snow and slippery road conditions on Saturday night.

Problems due to the sudden cold weather were also reported in Britain, Germany, Belgium, France, Switzerland, Italy and Greece.

Deaths were reported in Belgium and the Czech Republic.

In the western French seaside area of Vendee, just south of Brittany, the storm dumped up to 30cm of snow and left about 17 000 homes without electricity. Power was restored to about half the homes by Saturday afternoon, electrical utility EDF said. Cold-weather alerts were issued in 37 departments, or districts, across France, with drivers urged to stay off the roads until the snow subsided.

For some, the chilling winds brought an early winter treat as ski slopes opened in the Belgian Ardenne region and hilly central Germany.

In Belgium, the first snow caused traffic accidents and electricity blackouts on Saturday. Authorities warned of black ice after a 21-year-old man was killed when his car slipped and hit a tree near Poperinge in West Flanders, while two people were hurt—one seriously—in an 11-vehicle pile up. In The Netherlands, hundreds of vehicles were involved in crashes, but no fatalities were reported.

Flight delays were reported in Amsterdam and Brussels. In Germany’s Duesseldorf, 20cm of snow forced the international airport to close and divert planes to Cologne-Bonn airport. Railway traffic was also disrupted.

In Britain, 500 vehicles were stranded by snow storms on a remote moor in south-west England, police said. Devon and Cornwall police said rescuers in four-wheel-drive vehicles were gradually evacuating people from the closed A30 road on Bodmin Moor. Army heavy-lifting vehicles were being brought to the area to help clear the road if necessary.—Sapa-AP

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