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Late-winter snowstorm batters northwestern Europe
by Staff Writers
Paris (AFP) March 13, 2013


Paris train services with Brussels, London resume
Paris (AFP) March 13, 2013 - High-speed train services resumed Wednesday between Paris, London and Brussels after heavy snow stopped them the day before, the French rail authorities said.

SNCF said the cross-Channel Eurostar service to London and the Thalys service to Brussels as well as other stops in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany had resumed around 0700 am (0600 GMT).

High-speed links were also restored between Paris and regional centres like Amien, Rouen and Caen, it said.

"SNCF put up more than 1,000 customers in hotel rooms near stations and in train sleeping carriages that were made available," the rail authority said in a statement.

"For 24 hours, 10,000 employees have been working to remove snow from the rail lines and re-establish service," it added.

The train services were suspended when a severe late-winter snowstorm battered northwestern Europe on Tuesday, causing widespread travel chaos with the cancellation of hundreds of flights at main airports.

Blizzard-like conditions -- coming only eight days before the official start of spring -- also knocked out power to thousands of people in France and left motorists stranded in their cars.

France was the worst affected but Belgium, Britain, Germany and the Netherlands also reported major disruptions.

Thousands without electricity as winter storm hits France
Caen, France (AFP) March 12, 2013 - More than 68,000 homes were without electricity in France and hundreds of people were trapped in their cars after a winter storm hit with heavy snow, officials and weather services said Tuesday.

An accident near the northern city of Lille involving three cars that skidded in icy conditions on a motorway left 14 people injured, including six firefighters.

Twenty-six regions in northwest and northern France were put on orange alert because of heavy snowfalls, which Meteo France said were "remarkable for the season because of the expected quantity and length of time".

Conditions were forecast to improve early Wednesday.

Overnight Monday nearly 500 cars were blocked near Cherbourg where snowdrifts piled up 60 centimetres (almost two feet) as winds reached 100 kilometres (more than 60 miles) an hour.

More than 68,000 homes were without electricity in Normandy and Britanny at some point, but the ERDF utility said their numbers were down to 500 on Monday night.

Because of the severe weather civil aviation officials asked airlines to cancel up to 25 percent of flights from Roissy and Orly airports in Paris.

Snow also delayed trains on the Paris-Cherbourg line as well as TGV high-speed trains.

In Cherbourg, a ferry carrying 491 passengers from Ireland aborted its approach late Monday because of heavy seas and was expected to make another attempt early Tuesday.

A severe late-winter snowstorm battered northwestern Europe on Tuesday, causing widespread travel chaos with the cancellation of hundreds of flights at main airports and the suspension of train services including cross-Channel Eurostar trains.

Blizzard-like conditions -- coming only eight days before the official start of spring -- also knocked out power to thousands of people in France and left thousands of motorists stranded in their cars.

France was the worst affected but Belgium, Britain, Germany and the Netherlands also reported major disruptions.

Frankfurt Airport, Europe's third-busiest hub, re-opened two runways by late Tuesday after being briefly forced to completely close due to the heavy snow.

An airport spokesman said 700 flights had been cancelled out of a scheduled daily total of 1,250 and warned of more cancellations and delays on Wednesday.

Paris's two main airports, Charles de Gaulle and Orly, said they had cancelled up to a quarter of flights and the nearby Beauvais airport, serving mainly low-cost airlines, cancelled all flights.

Eurostar trains between London and Paris, the Thalys line between Paris and Brussels and all other high-speed train lines in northern France were suspended Tuesday.

In statements on their websites, Eurostar said it would "operate an amended timetable" on Wednesday, while Thalys said travellers should expect "disturbances".

Two northwestern French regions, Calvados and Manche, were put under a "red alert" urging residents to stay indoors -- the first time such an alert was activated because of snow. It was finally lifted Tuesday evening.

However an "orange" alert was maintained in 21 other regions.

Road conditions in the Paris area also remained difficult as temperatures should plunge to around minus six degrees (around 20 Fahrenheit) overnight with more snow expected.

The interior ministry put out a travel advisory for the northern third of the country, saying non-essential travels should be postponed.

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 paralysed roads in Normandy and Brittany, with many spending the night in emergency shelters.

About 80,000 homes in the north and northwest of France were without power, following snowfalls of up to 30 centimetres (12 inches) and winds creating metre-high snowdrifts. Schools in some northern regions were closed.

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. Another death from the cold was also reported in Normandy.

-- 'Not a bad place to be stuck' --

At London's St Pancras International train station, hundreds of passengers queued in weary resignation to change their tickets after seeing the day's trains cancelled, hopeful but far from guaranteed of a seat on a Wednesday service.

Francoise Rolland, 65, had to return to family she was staying with in Oxford after her train to Paris was cancelled -- her first time using the Eurostar, and her first visit to Britain.

"We don't know if we can go home tomorrow. It's annoying, but what can you do? We are not going to swim across the Channel."

Another stranded passenger, 28-year-old Tom Moens of Belgium, said he was concerned about missing work but conceded things could be worse.

"It's not their fault, Of course we want to go home, but (London) is not a bad place to be stuck," he said.

Hundreds of people around Britain were also stranded in their cars overnight, some for more than 10 hours as ice, snow and powerful winds descended on southeastern England.

Police, rescue services, snow ploughs and gritting lorries battled to help the motorists in temperatures as low as minus 3 degrees Celsius (26 degrees Fahrenheit), with some areas under 10 centimetres (four inches) of snow.

Singer Cheryl Baker, formerly of the band Bucks Fizz which won the 1981 Eurovision with the song "Making Your Mind Up", was among those caught up in the chaos as she tried to reach Brighton to pick up her children.

"We (took) 10 hours to do a one-hour journey," she told ITV. "The traffic and the weather have just been atrocious and none of the roads had been gritted."

Public transport in Berlin was affected with several regional trains cancelled or delayed. There were also a spate of crashes on icy German roads with several people seriously hurt and one death, according to police.

A mass pile-up in the central German state of Hesse involving at least 100 vehicles injured several dozen. The crash was apparently caused by heavy snowfall and icy roads.

In Belgium, the snowstorms caused massive traffic disruptions, with vehicles backed up on 1,600 kilometres (1,000 miles) of freeways Tuesday morning due to snowdrifts and ice.

burs-vjf/gk

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