December 20, 2009 / 5:10 PM / 10 years ago

Snow snarls air, rail travel across Europe

LONDON (Reuters) - Snow and freezing temperatures caused transport chaos across Europe on Sunday, with the Eurostar rail service suspended for a second day and flights grounded at snowbound airports across the continent.

People walk under heavy snowfall in central Kiev, December 20, 2009. REUTERS/Konstantin Chernichkin

Six Eurostar trains carrying more than 2,500 passengers were stuck for up to 16 hours overnight on Friday, five in an undersea tunnel linking Britain and France, due to technical faults caused by the wintery weather.

“We will not start services again until we’re sure we can get (the trains) through safely,” Richard Brown, chief executive of Eurostar, told Britain’s BBC television.

Almost all international train travel was halted to and from the Netherlands, where the meteorological service issued a storm warning. Trains were delayed in Poland because of frozen points and damaged rails.

Europe’s airports and airlines also were fighting a losing battle to get passengers away for the Christmas holidays as the snow continued to fall.

“There is still heavy snowfall and every time we clear a runway to permit a flight, we have to shut it down again because of the heavy snowfall,” said Jan Van der Cruysse, spokesman for Brussels National Airport.

In Germany, a week of freezing temperatures and this winter’s biggest snowfall led to hundreds of road accidents, with the country’s third busiest airport — Duesseldorf International — forced to close on Sunday.

POWER CUTS

“Due to the weather, numerous delays have to be expected. In some cases, there are cancellations, particularly on the routes Frankfurt-Duesseldorf, Brussels-Amsterdam, as airports have been closed there in the course of the day,” a Lufthansa spokesman said in Frankfurt.

In southern England, Gatwick and Luton airports were shut for hours on Friday, the busy Heathrow hub has had cancellations and there were cancellations at Manchester, northwest England, on Sunday because of snow and ice on the runway.

While the effects of cold snap have been nowhere near as bad as on the U.S. east coast, where more than half a 0.5 metre (22 inches) of snow was expected in some areas, it has claimed dozens of lives, damaged power lines and halted sports fixtures.

In Poland, news channel TVN24 on Sunday quoted police as saying 47 Poles, mainly homeless people, had been found frozen to death since the start of December as temperatures dropped as low as minus 18 degrees Celsius.

More than 220 villages and towns in Bulgaria were left without electricity, and toppled trees cut power in several mountainous suburbs in the capital Sofia.

An overflowing dam in the town of Zlatograd, southeast of Sofia, flooded the basements of several apartment buildings, the town’s mayor told news agency Focus.

Four Serie A soccer matches were postponed in Italy.

In France, the heavy snowfall was not expected to end until Monday evening at the earliest, according to weather bureau Meteo France.

Slideshow (15 Images)

Minimum temperatures hovered close to record lows in some areas overnight, with the minimum reading in the Jura department of eastern France reaching minus 23C.

Temperatures in Moscow rose to about minus 15C on Sunday after the mercury dipped to below minus 26C on Wednesday.

The relatively warmer temperatures brought heavy snow falls in the Russian capital, blanketing Red Square and the Kremlin.

Reporting by Reuters bureaux across Europe; Writing by Alison Williams; Editing by Michael Roddy

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