- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2009

LONDON | A winter storm born in the heart of Russia and sweeping in from continental Europe blanketed Britain in the heaviest snowfall in nearly two decades Monday, nearly paralyzing London and doing what the Nazi blitz of World War II could never manage - bring the capital’s buses to a complete halt.

Across the country, about 800 flights were canceled, more than 2,800 schools were closed, courts were shut down, and motorists sat in traffic jams stretching 50 miles or more as snow fell.

Then came warnings of ice, which was expected to coat everything from beaches to mountains.

London’s Heathrow Airport, one of the largest and busiest in the world, was forced to idle its runways until just before sunset, with the threat of further closures in the night’s snowfall and ice. Passengers were told not to bother going to the airport.

In its opening volley, the storm swirled in on fierce, Arctic-like winds targeting London and the populous southeast area before dawn and into the morning rush hour Monday.

The Federation of Small Businesses estimated that 6.4 million people - about one-fifth of Britain’s total work force - never made it to their jobs.

By late Monday afternoon, weather forecasters were predicting that the big freeze could last until the weekend, with ice and sleet moving in to add to the winter’s treachery.

Not since February 1991 has London and southeast England been hit so severely. During that winter, the heart of the capital was caught in the chilly grip of a foot of snow.

By midafternoon Monday, the new snowfall was 8 inches deep in the city, and forecasters predicted several more inches.

At its Monday peak, the storm had forced the full or partial shutdown of 10 of London’s 11 underground rail lines upon which the city’s millions of workers depend to get to and from their offices and homes.

Aboveground, hundreds of London’s traditional red buses stopped running because of what transportation officials described as “adverse weather and dangerous driving conditions.” Not even during the 57 days that Nazi Germany’s bombers blitzed the capital in 1940 and 1941 were its buses totally halted from making their daily runs.

London Mayor Boris Johnson conceded that the city was ill-prepared.

“This is the kind of snow we haven’t seen in decades,” he said. “We don’t have the snowplows that we would otherwise need to be sure of getting the roads free.

“The difficulty really has been that the volume of snow has been so huge that you can put down grit, put down the salt, but then it simply snows over it again,” Mr. Johnson said.

Meanwhile, hospitals in London issued emergency calls to doctors, nurses and other medical staff to make their way into work to deal with an anticipated rash of accidents and other casualties of the wintry onslaught.

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