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Europe counts the cost of big freeze

A tourist takes a picture of the Reichstag building, which houses Germany's lower house of parliament, in Berlin January 11, 2010, as snow continued to cover the capital. The Arctic freeze gripping Europe left hundreds of people stuck in vehicles in deep snow or stranded at airports with scores of flights cancelled and power cuts to thousands of homes. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Staff Writers
Berlin (AFP) Jan 11, 2010
Europe battled Monday to recover from Arctic cold amid warnings over the cost of the weeks long freeze that has caused the cancellation of thousands of flights and train journeys and been blamed for dozens of deaths.

Some villages in northeast Germany remained cut off as snowdrifts whipped up by gale force winds made roads and railways unpassable.

"We are slowly fighting our way through the masses of snow," a police spokesman in the northern German city of Luebeck said, while weather experts said falling temperatures meant more snow this week.

At Frankfurt airport, Europe's third busiest, where some 320 flights were cancelled at the weekend, 15 more were scrapped on Monday and authorities warned of further problems as air traffic slowly gets back to normal.

Spain and Portugal also felt the full force of the harsh winter, with the southern Spanish city of Seville under snow for the first time in half a century.

Authorities sounded the alert across central and northern Spain, with 137 flights cancelled at Madrid-Barajas airport.

In Portugal, around 50 main roads were closed as snow forced scores of people to spend the night stuck in their vehicles. Schools were shut in the worst-hit regions.

In southern Poland, more than 70,000 homes were without power for a second day while heavy snow and freezing rain hit rail traffic between the capital Warsaw and the south.

Prague has had its heaviest snowfalls in 17 years and hundreds of homes across the Czech Republic were without electricity.

In Britain, icy roads and snow showers efforts to get the country moving again, with Eurostar train services from London to Paris and Brussels again restricted.

British Schools Secretary Ed Balls today urged schools to open "if at all possible" as closures threatened exams, while gritting was limited to major roads in most areas as stocks fell sharply with about 60,000 tonnes used each day.

The death toll in Britain from weather-related incidents rose to at least 29 over the weekend, reports said, with the latest victim a man who fell through ice on the River Tees trying to rescue his two dogs.

Scores of deaths in similar accidents, mountain avalanches or homeless people killed by the cold have been reported across Europe over the past two weeks.

In France, there were lengthy delays on TGV high-speed rail links.

Experts in Germany, which is emerging from its worst recession since World War II, warned that the blanket of snow covering the whole country would hit the economy, freezing construction activity and disrupting supplies.

"The cold weather could really make for a difficult start to what is meant to be a year of growth in 2010," Volker Treier from the DIHK economics institute told the Bild daily.

If there is no improvement soon, the German economy could lose around two billion euros (three billion dollars) in lost activity, or 0.4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in the first quarter, he said.

Britain, which is still in recession, is on course to take a hit of 1.0 billion pounds (1.1 billion euros, 1.6 billion dollars) from the harshest winter in decades, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research.

But economists believe the impact will be mitigated by Britons working at home to beat the freeze, benefiting utilities and Internet retailers as they turn up the heating and shop online, and that the economy will bounce back.

"Don't exaggerate (the) economic impact of the freeze -- much of the lost GDP will be made up in the coming weeks -- but some cash-strapped businesses might be pushed over the edge," CEBR head Douglas Williams said.

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North China braces for more icy weather
Beijing (AFP) Jan 11, 2010
Northern China braced for another blast of frigid air Monday, as coal shortages neared "alarming" levels due to surging power use amid a prolonged cold snap, the government and state media reported. The new cold front is expected to send temperatures plummeting -- to as low as minus 35 degrees Celsius (-31 degrees Fahrenheit) in northern Heilongjiang province -- for much of the week, the ... read more

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