Snow causes pre-Christmas travel chaos in Europe/ PHOTO

Fresh snow brought much of Europe to a standstill on what is traditionally the busiest weekend for shopping and travel in the run-up to Christmas

Snow causes pre-Christmas travel chaos in Europe/ PHOTO

Heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures caused travel chaos across northern Europe on Friday, with hundreds of German flights cancelled and icy roads wreaking havoc in Poland and the Netherlands ahead of Christmas.

A spokesman for Frankfurt airport operator Fraport said 400 of 1,400 scheduled flights had been cancelled at continental Europe's busiest airport, even though Germany's financial capital escaped the worst of the winter weather.

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Another 100 flights were cancelled in Berlin, which was blanketed by a heavy cover of snow throughout the day, leaving city officials scrambling to clear roads and slowing traffic to a crawl in some parts.

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In neighbouring Poland, where severe frost has killed 93 people so far this winter, a blast of cold and new train timetables combined to cause chaos on the rail network.

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Days of disruption have led to calls by opposition politicians for the dismissal of Polish Infrastructure Minister Cezary Grabarczyk, who apologised in parliament on Friday for the inconvenience suffered by passengers.

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"We have been standing in a field for more than an hour now as the electricity packed up on the train," said one rail passenger travelling from Warsaw to the southwestern city of Wroclaw on Friday.

"The heating was down, all the toilets closed and there was no way to get something hot to drink," she said, declining to give her name.

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In the Netherlands, highways became covered in ice, two tunnels were closed due to ice and an accident, and 500 km (300 miles) of traffic jams formed, the Dutch transport group ANWB said on its Twitter feed.

Amsterdam Schiphol Airport said dozens of flights had been cancelled and public transport in Dutch cities was sharply reduced.

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Meanwhile in Britain, a fresh snowfall threatened to throw roads and railways into disarray.

Motorists were warned to exercise caution on icy roads and police in Northern Ireland and parts of Scotland told drivers to avoid non-essential travel.

British Energy Minister Charles Hendry warned that more bad weather over Christmas could lead to "very serious" shortages of domestic heating oil.

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Speaking in parliament, he said higher demand along with delayed deliveries and soaring oil prices meant homes might have to wait as long as four weeks for supplies.

Researchers warned on Thursday the severe weather conditions could push retailers into the red over the peak Christmas trading period, although a survey on Wednesday showed British retail sales rising at their fastest pace since 2002.

Some shoppers, hoping to avoid the treacherous conditions by purchasing presents online, faced disappointment after it was reported items were stockpiled in warehouses, with companies unable to deliver by road or rail.

Some sporting fixtures were also cancelled.

Reuters

Last Mod: 18 Aralık 2010, 15:12
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