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Deadly cold brings Europe to a standstill

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-01-10

Extreme winter weather has halted transport in parts of Europe and led to the deaths of dozens of people, with authorities warning residents to brace for more cold and snow.

AFP - Europe faced a weekend of weather chaos as Germany braced for a blizzard and authorities warned people to stock up on food and drinking water while Britain and France struggled to cope with heavy snow.

Germans were urged to buy enough food and medicines to last for up to four days with 20 centimetres (eight inches) of snowfall forecast to fall overnight Friday.

The government said all non-essential travel should be avoided.

By Friday evening, the island of Ruegen off the northeast coast was covered in 30 centimetres of snow while the capital Berlin was carpeted with snow and ice.

"What is being forecast for the weekend could lead to chaotic traffic conditions and potentially leave large parts of Germany completely paralysed," the Autoclub Europa warned.

Britain, suffering its worst winter for three decades, was forced to curb industrial gas usage to save dwindling supplies.

The country prepared for further freezing conditions as forecasters warned that temperatures would drop below minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus four degrees Fahrenheit) overnight.

Two men died after falling into a frozen lake in Leicester, central England.

Hundreds of flights were scrapped leaving more passengers stranded and the beleaguered Eurostar link between Britain, France and Belgium axed half its services Friday and said the disruption would continue into the weekend.

"It's going to be a similarly restrictive timetable for Saturday, with two-thirds (of trains) in all directions," a Eurostar spokesman told AFP.

Twenty-seven major companies in Britain were ordered to halt using gas Friday in order to maintain overall supplies amid unprecedented levels of demand.

Ninety-seven major companies had their gas turned off Thursday, in the first such move since 2003, although the government said there was no immediate danger for households of supplies running out.

"We've got plenty of supplies, the gas storage is about 70 percent full," Environment Secretary Hilary Benn told GMTV television.

Eurostar cancelled half of its trains between London and Paris Friday, and said only about two-thirds of services between London and the continent would operate over the weekend.

Low-cost airline easyJet cancelled 32 flights, largely to and from London Gatwick and Liverpool airports. British Airways cancelled around 60 departures from London Heathrow, while around 90 incoming flights were scrapped.

On the roads, the AA motor vehicle breakdown service said it had dealt with 340,000 breakdowns since December 17.

Thousands of schools remained closed, while several of the weekend's English Premier League football matches were called off, including a showdown between heavyweights Liverpool and Tottenham in northwest England.

In France, significant snowfalls caused major delays to train services and southern areas experienced electricity cuts.

With more snow forecast, authorities asked airlines to cut a quarter of flights on Saturday at Paris's main Charles de Gaulle airport.

Meteo France posted weather warnings for 55 of metropolitan France's 94 departments on Saturday, warning snow and ice may "cause major transportation difficulties and severely disrupt activities".

In the southern city of Arles, some 15,000 people were left without electricity after power lines collapsed under the weight of snow. Around 30 centimetres fell in some parts of the southeast.

In Norway, temperatures hit minus 42 degrees Celsius in the central village of Folldal.

In Poland, nine people died in a 48-hour period, bringing the total weather-related deaths to 139 since the start of November, a police spokesman said. Most of the victims were homeless people.

Meanwhile Switzerland's 24.5-kilometre (15.3-mile) Gotthard Tunnel, part of a strategic trans-European motorway that runs from Germany to Italy, was due to reopen to trucks following heavy snowfall.
 

Date created : 2010-01-09

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