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Snow causes European travel chaos
Freezing conditions disrupt air, rail and road travel across the region, as more severe weather is forecast.
Last Modified: 21 Dec 2010 09:29 GMT
Major roads within northen Europe have become impassable due to the extreme weather conditions [Reuters]


Severe winter weather conditions have left passengers stranded across northern Europe as airports, roads and rail suffer major disruption.

Thousands of flights across the region were grounded on Monday, following a weekend of airport chaos in Britain which saw Heathrow, Europe's busiest airport temporarily close.

British Airways has said the freezing conditions would continue to cause major disruption to its services, cancelling all short-haul flights on Monday. Hundreds of passengers have spent days camping out at the airport in the hope of catching flights before Christmas.

Boris Johnson, the London mayor, has called for a "Herculean effort" by Heathrow operator BAA and its contractors to get planes back in the air, but more snow is expected in the area on Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning.

Heathrow inquiry

In Germany at least 1,000 flights at the country's main airports were cancelled and many more delayed after around 40cm of fresh snow fell. In France, serious delays were occuring at Paris' two main airports Charles de Gaulle and Orly following an early snowstorm.

However Gatwick, London's second largest airport, was starting to "return to normal" on Monday morning, leading to questions by the government about the nature of the problem at Heathrow.

Philip Hammond, Britain's transport secretary, has promised an inquiry into the way passengers were treated at Heathrow after their flights were cancelled.

"The parent company that runs Heathrow has come under a lot of criticism in the past for not being prepared to put in the sort of investment and infrastructure that would allow the airport to be able to put up with conditions like this," Laurence Lee, Al Jazeera's correspondent at Heathrow said.

"They don't want to pay for it because they say this is a once-in-a-life time event."

The French government has also criticised delays there, with Thierry Mariani, the country's transport minister, saying it was "unacceptable" that some 3,000 people were blocked at Charles de Gaulle airport over the weekend.

He has called a meeting this week of airlines to find ways to improve communication with passengers.

Train travel between Britain and France has also been hit, with passengers for the Eurostar service expected to endure five-hour queues before boarding the trains from London.

Icy roads have also wreaked havoc across the region, including in Britain where some roads have been made impassable after drivers abandoned their vehicles in heavy snow.

Authorities in parts of western Germany have banned trucks weighing more than 7.5 tonnes from highways as a safety measure, while British motoring organisations warned of potentially fatal conditions on the roads.

Forecasters have said Britain is experiencing some of the most severe winter weather in a century, with continued freezing temperatures and snowfall accumulations expected Monday afternoon and evening.

Temperatures plunged to a record low overnight in Northern Ireland, and forecasters predicted fresh deluges of snow across Britain.

Retailers have said the poor weather would affect their sales on what is traditionally the busiest shopping weekend before Christmas.

Earlier this month, Insurer RSA said the snow could cost the British economy up to $2bn a day.

In the western US state of California, storms have delivered snow and a record amount of rain, with fears of mudslides emerging.

Jamie Meier, a meteorologist of the National Weather Service, said that some regions in the south of the state felt more than 12 inches of rain - a high for rainfall in one storm incident since 2005.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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