Late-winter snowstorm hits northwestern Europe
By Michael Mainville, AFPPARIS--A heavy late-winter snowstorm battered northwestern Europe on Tuesday, causing massive disruptions including the closure of Frankfurt airport and the suspension of trains between Paris and London.
March 13, 2013, 12:15 am TWN
The unseasonable snowfall — coming only eight days before the official start of spring — also knocked out power to thousands of people in France and left hundreds of motorists stranded in their cars.
France was worst affected but Germany, Britain, Belgium and The Netherlands also reported major disruptions.
Frankfurt airport, Europe's third-busiest hub, announced it had been forced to close due to heavy snow, with more than 200 flights scrapped by late morning. An airport spokesman was unable to say when it would be able to re-open.
The Eurostar high-speed train between London and Paris was also suspended after heavy snowfall on the tracks in northern France and Belgium. Eurostar said it expected services to resume on Wednesday.
Nearly a third of France's regions were on alert and the government activated a ministerial crisis group.
Weather service Meteo France described the snowfall as “remarkable for the season” and warned that alerts would probably remain in place until at least Wednesday.
More than 2,000 people were stranded in their cars overnight as heavy snow paralyzed roads in Normandy and Brittany, with many spending the night in emergency shelters.
“There are cars in front, there are cars behind. We're in a film, it's like the end of the world,” trapped driver Michel told France Bleu radio from the Manche region.
About 80,000 homes in the north and northwest of France were without power, following snowfalls of up to 60 centimeters (24 inches).
The snow caused major disruptions as it moved into Paris, with authorities urging the 7 million commuters who use public transport every day to stay home. Several major roads around the capital were closed.
The city's two main airports, Charles de Gaulle and Orly, said they had canceled up to a quarter of flights and the nearby Beauvais airport, serving mainly low-cost airlines, canceled all flights.
At Orly, a Tunisair flight carrying 140 people from Djerba skidded off the runway on landing but no one was injured, an airport source said.
A traffic accident near Lille injured 14 people and a 58-year-old homeless man was found dead, presumably from the cold, outside a building in the town of Saint-Brieuc in Brittany.
Hundreds were also stuck in their cars overnight in Britain, some for more than 10 hours as ice, snow and freezing winds descended on southeastern England.
Police, rescue services, snow ploughs and gritting lorries battled to help the motorists in temperatures as low as -3 degrees Celsius (26 degrees Fahrenheit), with some areas under 10 centimeters (four inches) of snow.