London (AFP) Jan 6, 2010
A blanket of snow hit southern England Wednesday as Britain's most brutal winter in decades caused chaos for travellers and businesses, and bitterly cold temperatures cloaked much of Europe.
Millions of people in London and the southeast of England struggled to and from work in heavy snow after storms spread from Scotland and the north of England, where they have caused problems for days.
Much of the rest of Europe was also gripped by freezing temperatures due to a weather front from Siberia, and three people died on the roads in France.
Forecasters at the Met Office issued severe weather warnings for southern England, saying some counties could get up to 40 centimetres (16 inches) of snow, while central London was also hit by blizzards.
Insurers RSA predicted the recession-hit British economy could lose about 690 million pounds (1.1 billion dollars, 770 million euros) a day through lost business caused by people staying at home.
The Met Office said the cold spell was the worst since 1981 and warned of more to come, saying: "Bitterly cold and wintry weather is forecast to continue for the next couple of weeks with further snowfall expected at times."
The freeze also swept Europe, with Norway among the coldest. Temperatures in the central town of Roeros fell to minus 41 degrees Celsius (about minus 42 Fahrenheit).
In the Netherlands, the ice was thick enough for the year's first skating event on natural ice, with up to 1,500 people expected to make the two-kilometre (1.2 mile) circuit on the Henschoter Lake in Utrecht.
Snow and ice caused travel mayhem across the continent.
In France two young people died in a road accident in Orne in the northwest and a Spanish bus driver died in a crash in the western region of Charente.
Dublin airport in Ireland closed, heavy snow at Amsterdam-Schiphol airport caused delays and cancellations, and there was chaos at London Gatwick as more than 400 flights were cancelled when snow closed the runway.
Meanwhile, torrential rain hit parts of Italy and officials feared the swollen Tiber River could threaten Rome in coming days.
Back in Britain, transport links across densely-populated southern and central parts of England were snarled up by the cold weather.
Eurostar cancelled four trains between London, Paris and Brussels as a precaution, just weeks after freezing temperatures caused three-day service shutdown in the run-up to Christmas.
Soldiers were meanwhile called in to help the drivers of up to 500 cars stranded overnight on a major road in Hampshire, southern England.
"The military have been working with us all night. They're helping people to get out of their cars and moving the cars to the side of the road so gritters can get through," a police spokeswoman said.
Hundreds of schools around Britain were closed and football matches were called off, including Wednesday night's League Cup semi-final between Manchester United and Manchester City.
The disruption also turned the spotlight on Britain's infrastructure services, as power companies said heavy snow on power lines had left about 5,000 homes without electricity in southern England on Wednesday evening.
The National Grid issued a "gas balancing alert" for only the second time ever on Monday after a 30 percent surge in demand because of the weather, suggesting supplies must be cut or new sources of gas found.
A spokeswoman said supplies were in place to cope with demand, although the main opposition Conservatives said they had seen figures showing Britain only had eight days of supplies in storage, based on current usage levels.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the government was "doing our best" to help people, including helping elderly people pay their heating bills and ensuring local authorities have enough grit for icy roads amid heavy demand.
One positive impact of the white-out was enjoyed by police in Manchester, northern England, who said they had caught a fugitive prisoner by following his footprints in the freshly-fallen snow.
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China's deep freeze triggers power shortage
Beijing (AFP) Jan 6, 2010
A frigid Siberian cold front gripping northern and central China has caused coal and power shortages as residents scramble to keep warm, state press reported Wednesday. Temperatures early Wednesday in Beijing fell to minus 16.7 degrees Celsius (two degrees Fahrenheit) -- the lowest in the capital since 1971 -- as rare snows fell in central and eastern China, the state weather bureau said. ... read more
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