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Heavy Snow Disrupts Travel Across North Europe

Date: 21-Dec-10
Country: GERMANY/BRITAIN
Author: Erik Kirschbaum and Rhys Jones

Heavy Snow Disrupts Travel Across North Europe Photo: REUTERS/Luke MacGregor
A passenger looks at an arrivals board displaying cancelled flights in Terminal 3 at Heathrow Airport, in west London December 19, 2010.
Photo: REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

Snow and freezing temperatures grounded flights and disrupted road and rail links across northern Europe on Monday, stranding travelers and closing schools.

Only one of two runways at London Heathrow, the world's busiest international airport, was operating after a weekend snowstorm, forcing thousands to camp out in terminals. More than 1,000 flights at German airports in Frankfurt, Munich and Berlin were canceled, disrupting business and Christmas holiday plans.

Freezing temperatures were expected to continue in Britain and Scandinavia for much of this week. Most of the rest of Europe is forecast to warm up in coming days, although a drop back to sub-zero levels is likely next week. For some the snowfall was welcome. Children's sledges were sold out in Germany.

"This much snow is only fun if you're a kid," said Berlin lawyer Katja-Julia Fischer, 42: "It's getting on my nerves."

The severe weather has hit retailers at the height of Christmas trading. Britain's biggest department store chain, John Lewis, said sales fell more than 10 percent on Saturday.

Some online retailers were declining new orders or cancelling existing ones because of delivery problems, according to the industry body IMRG.

Northern France was also covered by heavy snow, disrupting road and rail traffic as Parisians braved clogged highways to reach their holiday destinations.

ARMY VEHICLES

France's army deployed blue armored personnel carriers on highways around Paris, where they used their horsepower to drag stranded cars out of ditches and back onto the road.

In Paris, children made snowmen on the whitened lawns in front of the Eiffel Tower. Snowboarders even took to the hills of northern Paris, an unusual sight in a city known for its rainy, temperate weather.

The unusually severe winter weather buoyed demand for energy and helped share prices in London. Oil majors were higher as temperatures in Europe and the U.S. Northeast looked set to remain below zero this week, boosting fuel demand.

"If this winter wonderland continues, it's not only good news for Santa, but an early Christmas present for the utility companies too," said Jimmy Yates, head of equities at CMC Markets.

But airline shares suffered from the disruption at one of their busiest times of the year. British Airways shares fell 1.5 percent and Germany's Lufthansa fell 0.8 percent.

BA, which is losing up to 10 million pounds ($15.5 million) a day according to analysts, said Arctic conditions would continue to cause major disruption to its operations. Only one runway would be in use at Heathrow, its hub, on Tuesday.

"WE DON'T HAVE A FLIGHT"

Brandi Gonzalez, a 27-year-old pre-school teacher from Connecticut, was stuck at Heathrow after waiting since Friday to fly to New York with her husband and son.

"All I'm getting is 'We will help you as much as we can'. It's a two-hour wait on the phone to rebook a flight. Today I sat on the phone for two hours to get hung up on. They said 'We still don't have another flight', and I got hung up on."

The German carrier Lufthansa said it was confident it would operate a full service by Wednesday.

Air France said there were serious delays to passenger flights and cargo operations at the two main Paris airports, Charles de Gaulle and Orly, after a snowstorm on Monday.

The weather forced Eurostar to impose speed limits on its cross-Channel trains between Britain and France, adding up to two hours to journey times.

Passengers formed a slow-moving line that stretched for hundreds of meters around the block outside London's St Pancras station.

With temperatures hovering around zero degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit), and likely to fall well below freezing, charity workers handed out cups of tea to passengers wrapped up in scarves, gloves and woolly hats.

Germany's most populous state, North-Rhine Westphalia, took the unusual step of banning trucks from motorways in a bid to keep passenger traffic rolling. A rail worker was killed in Berlin, run over by a train while trying to de-ice a switch. Belgium also closed its motorways to trucks after tailbacks totaled 600 km (370 miles) in the morning rush hour.

In Poland, six people froze to death on Sunday night, raising the death toll to 114 in the last month.

Heavy snow snarled Warsaw traffic again on Monday. Warsaw airport was open but receiving far fewer passengers than usual because of flight cancellations in western Europe.

(Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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