Northern Europe counts cost of travel chaos causing big freeze

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LONDON (Reuters) – Heavy snow caused travel chaos across much of northern Europe Thursday, keeping London’s Gatwick airport closed for a second day and disrupting road and rail travel in France, Germany and Switzerland.

Days of sub-zero temperatures and snow in Britain, beginning in Scotland and northern England and moving south, have halted flights and trains and could be costing the economy 1.2 billion pounds a day, according to insurer RSA.

Commuters struggled to get to work as Britain’s worst early winter weather in almost two decades showed no sign of easing.

Gatwick, Britain’s second busiest airport, said it would remain closed until at least 6 a.m. Friday. Edinburgh airport, operated by BAA, was expected to reopen by 4 p.m. on Thursday after closing all day Wednesday.

Amid widespread criticism of Britain’s inability to cope with bad weather, Transport Secretary Philip Hammond ordered a review of how transport operators had responded this week.

“Complacency is not an option. There are lessons to be learned from our performance in every bout of bad weather and it is important that we learn those now,” Hammond said.

An association of independent petrol retailers warned eastern parts of Britain were suffering fuel shortages because of supply problems, particularly in rural areas.

British wholesale gas prices rose to their highest level since early 2009 Thursday on high demand for heating which is draining limited stocks.

Last winter was the coldest in Britain for three decades and the authorities had hoped to avoid a repeat of the disruption to travel and businesses that had caused.

EUROSTAR DELAYS

Eurostar, which runs train services connecting Britain to France and Belgium, said it would be operating a “significantly reduced timetable Thursday.” Services would be subject to delays of up to 90 minutes and some would be cancelled, it said.

France’s SNCF state rail company told travellers to expect delays of an hour or so on many services and cancellation of two in 10 trains between Paris and the south-east.

In Germany, scores of flights were cancelled and many delayed at airports in Frankfurt, Munich and Berlin.

Berlin suffered road and rail disruptions and temperatures were forecast to fall as far as -20 degrees Celsius in parts of the country Thursday. Motorists were stranded for several hours on one motorway in the western state of Hesse overnight.

Geneva’s Cointrin airport reopened Thursday after the heaviest snowfall in decades closed its only runway for nearly 36 hours. Hundreds of stranded passengers spent a second night in the airport or in civil protection shelters.

An airport spokesman said losses were running at about 500,000 Swiss francs a day during the closure.

The heaviest snowfall was in western Switzerland, which disrupted rail and road traffic, creating chaos for commuters.

RIVERS OVERFLOW

The Interior Ministry said 18 people had died in Poland over the past two days due to the severe weather, which has also disrupted air, road and rail traffic. Wintry weather kills dozens of homeless or drunk people in Poland each year.

A power plant broke down in Leszno near Warsaw Thursday, depriving some 20,000 people of heating and hot water.

Some flights to and from Warsaw were cancelled.

An official of the main opposition Law and Justice Party, Jacek Sasin, criticised local councils for not being better prepared to deal with the harsh winter conditions.

“Are we not able to predict that there will be wintry conditions in December?” he said on TOK FM radio.

Poland holds a second round of municipal and regional elections Sunday.

About 30 cm of snow fell in the Czech capital Prague, snarling transport and shutting the international airport. Seven flights were cancelled and 40 delayed, officials said.

The main links between the Czech Republic and Germany and between Prague and the second largest city of Brno in the east were clogged with traffic.

Heavy rain caused rivers to overflow and flood areas of Albania, Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro.

In Albania’s northern Shkoder region, 1,000 people were evacuated as water rose above two metres (yards). Serbian authorities declared a state of emergency in the western town of Ljubovija where the Drina river overflowed and across Bosnia, hundreds of people were evacuated from villages that had been isolated, with no electricity, by the rising water.

(Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Daniel Fineren in London, Eric Kelsey in Berlin, Gareth Jones in Warsaw, Mike Winfrey in Prague, Brian Love in Paris, Aleksander Vasovic in Belgrade, Daria Sito-Sucic in Sarajevo and Benet Koleka in Tirana; Writing by Janet Lawrence; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

By Adrian Croft
LONDON | Thu Dec 2, 2010 4:04pm GMT

Source: Reuters

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