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Snow batters Europe and Britain grinds to halt

An SAS 737 aircraft is de-iced as snowplows struggle to clear the runway at Malmo airport, in southern Sweden on December 2, 2010. Malmo airport was shut down today as heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures hit Northern Europe for the third straight day. Photo courtesy AFP.

Heavy snow strands motorists in northeast US
New York (AFP) Dec 2, 2010 - A snowstorm blanketed the northeastern United States on Thursday, shutting down an interstate highway near Buffalo, New York and leaving motorists stranded for more than 12 hours. Some drivers spent the night in their cars and trucks as long lines of vehicles filled Interstate 90. Up to two feet (61 centimeters) of snow fell in some areas in just 24 hours, according to local reports. The band of rough weather was expected to continue to affect the area through late Thursday before heading south, said the National Weather Service, which issued lake-effect snow warnings for areas on the eastern ends of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. "Lake-effect snow showers typically align themselves in bands and will likely be intense enough to drop one (2.5 centimeters) to several inches of snow per hour for several hours," it added. "Visibilities vary greatly and can drop to zero within minutes. Travel is strongly discouraged. Commerce could be severely impacted."

Freezing weather claims 28 lives in Central Europe
Warsaw (AFP) Dec 2, 2010 - Freezing weather has claimed 28 lives across Central Europe this week, including 18 deaths in Poland where temperatures plunged to minus 33 degrees Celsius, officials said Thursday. "Ten people died due to exposure over the last 24 hours across Poland after eight died on Tuesday," Poland's national police spokesman Mariusz Sokolowski told AFP. Alcohol and homelessness were common factors in the deaths and the victims were primarily men aged 35 to 60, he added. A similar story played out in neighbouring Czech Republic, where six men died in the past 48 hours, police said. In Lithuania, cold weather has claimed four lives. Heavy snow overnight Wednesday to Thursday forced the closure of the international airport in Czech capital Prague and wreaked havoc on road and railway networks, officials said.

An already heavily delayed Czech Airlines plane heading from Prague to Brussels was forced to return shortly after takeoff on Thursday morning as a piece of ice blocked its wing flaps, the airline said. Heavy snowfall earlier this week grounded flights and caused transport chaos on Poland's road and rail networks. Temperatures plunged Tuesday night to minus 33 degrees Celsius (minus 27.4 Fahrenheit) in the eastern city of Bialystok near Poland's eastern border with Belarus. Authorities in Poland have 3,000 prison inmates armed with shovels on standby to clear snow and ice. A total 289 people died of exposure in 2009 in Poland, including 119 victims in January alone, according to police statistics.
by Staff Writers
London (AFP) Dec 2, 2010
Fresh snowfalls swept northern Europe Thursday, causing misery for travellers as airports remain closed, roads were blocked and Eurostar international rail services were cancelled.

The unseasonable cold snap, which has lasted nearly a week, has caused Britain to grind to a halt, with thousands of schools closed and commuters stranded as rail services were cancelled and icy roads deemed unsafe.

Gatwick Airport, Britain's second busiest airport after Heathrow, closed for a second consecutive day, sparking outrage at the nation's apparent inability to cope with the cold.

Ministers have promised a review of how the transport network is coping, as newspapers warned Britain had become a "laughing stock" abroad, but pointed out that the rest of Europe was also faring badly as temperatures plummeted.

Eurostar, which runs trains between London and Paris and Brussels, cancelled more than 20 trains Thursday and said it would operate a significantly reduced service until Sunday.

There will be no more tickets on sale until Monday at the earliest, it said.

Geneva international airport only reopened Thursday morning after heavy snow caused it to close for a day and a half, but its schedule was still subject to heavy delays.

Dublin Airport closed as staff cleared snow and ice from the runways although flights were expected to resume later Thursday. Edinburgh Airport reopened after falling foul of the inclement conditions.

Dozens of flights were cancelled or delayed Thursday at airports in Paris, Prague and Frankfurt -- one of Europe's key air hubs.

The freezing weather has claimed 28 lives across central Europe this week, including 18 deaths, mostly of homeless men, since Tuesday in Poland, where temperatures plunged to minus 33 degrees Celsius (minus 27.5 Fahrenheit).

Snow storms that have swept the continent in recent days intensified in many places Thursday, including in London, where the first proper falls of the season left landmarks such as the British Museum covered in a layer of white.

But the pretty pictures belied the misery felt by many commuters stuck as services into the capital failed, a situation condemned as "unacceptable" by Jo deBank, communications officer for rail passenger watchdog London TravelWatch.

"After severe disruption in the last two years, we were assured that lessons had been learnt and contingency plans put in place, so we are bitterly disappointed at the delays and cancellations suffered by passengers," she said.

Many people gave up -- one survey suggested that two in five staff across Britain were not able to get to work on Thursday morning, while a similar number were late arriving.

Insurer RSA estimated that the bad weather could cost the British economy up to 1.2 billion pounds (1.9 billion dollars, 2.3 billion euros) a day.

Others who braved it had trouble getting home, and hundreds of passengers were forced to bed down for the night in a freezing train which failed amid heavy snow at a station in Sussex, southeast England.

"It was an absolute nightmare. We had to wait around for several hours in the cold on a freezing platform. We finally got something to eat at 4:00 am," passenger Rebecca Forsey told the BBC.

In Germany, Berlin woke up to more than ten centimetres (four inches) of snow, while almost 40 centimetres fell in Gera in the southeast, causing disruptions on train services and the closure of numerous roads.

Forecasters warned temperatures were likely to fall even further overnight Thursday, plunging to as low as minus 20 degrees Celsius in Brandenburg, the region surrounding the German capital.

In the northern French region of Normandy, snow measured 60 centimetres near the city of Cherbourg, the biggest snowfall in more than 40 years.

In the western Balkans, heavy rain caused flooding in Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, with more than 1,000 people evacuated from their homes, local media said.

While most of Europe shivered, residents of the Bulgarian capital Sofia enjoyed a seasonal heatwave with temperatures topping 20 degrees Celsius, while unseasonably high temperatures were also recorded in Greece.

"A record -- 21.3 degrees -- was established Thursday, the highest temperature for the month of December ever since measurements began in Sofia over 100 years ago," Krasimir Stoev from Bulgaria's national institute of meteorology told AFP.


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Travel disruptions as Europe shivers in fresh snowfalls
London (AFP) Dec 1, 2010
Heavy snowfalls forced some of Europe's busiest airports to close and wreaked havoc on roads and railways Wednesday as an unseasonable cold snap swept the continent, claiming at least 15 lives. Temperatures dropped to as low as minus 18 degrees Celsius (minus 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit) in some parts of Germany, while driving rain in Italy triggered the collapse of two Roman walls in Pompeii and ... read more

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