Blizzards blast British airports, hit sport

Britain was hit by more blizzards that shut its biggest airports on the busiest weekend for travellers before Christmas and hit road and rail traffic.

London Heathrow, the world’s busiest international passenger airport, closed both runways until at least Sunday morning to clear the snow, while London Gatwick also closed its runway for several hours.

British Airways cancelled all short-haul departures from both airports, with all long-haul flights from Heathrow scrapped for most of the day.

Heathrow said its runways were closed “to allow snow clearing and to keep the airport safe”.

British singer Lily Allen was among those hit, posting a series of increasingly angry Twitter messages as she tried for some six hours to get on a flight at Heathrow before announcing: “Guess we’re all kipping here”.

Gatwick airport said it was providing beds and cots, distributing thousands of blankets, hundreds of bottles of water and food and making showers and washing facilities available free of charge.

Flights were also grounded at Stansted and Luton airports near London, at Birmingham airport in Britain’s second city and Southampton airport for at least part of the day.

Meanwhile Eurostar, which operates high-speed passenger trains linking London with Paris and Brussels, was operating with speed restrictions that added up to an hour on journey times.

National rail routes and trunk roads were also affected.

Four people were killed in traffic accidents across Britain caused by the weather. In Lancashire, northwest England, hundreds of people had to spend the night in their cars after an accident blocked the main north-south motorway.

Temperatures dropped as low as minus 17 degrees Celsius north of Norwich in eastern England. Gatwick registered minus 11 Celsius.

The chilly conditions did not deter some hardy souls in north London, who went for a swim in the unheated outdoor Parliament Hill lido.

The weather helped police discover a cannabis factory in Leicester, central England. Only one house in a street had no snow on the roof, the heat given off by the factory melting it.

Sporting events were also hit, with several top flight football matches postponed, including Sunday’s big English Premier League clash between title rivals Chelsea and Manchester United. Saturday’s games at Arsenal, Wigan, Liverpool and Birmingham were also called off.

The Met Office national weather service predicted this could be Britain’s coldest December on record, with a current average temperature of minus 0.7 Celsius — five degrees Celsius below the long-term average.

It said up to 25 centimetres of snow could fall in some areas Saturday. — Sapa-AFP

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