Wednesday, December 28, 2005

PARIS (Agence France-Presse) — Europe shivered yesterday in the grip of an icy cold snap, with France hit hardest by blizzards that have cut rail and road links and left thousands of motorists stranded in subzero temperatures.

Snowstorms caused hundreds of train cancellations in Britain and flight disruptions in Germany, Sweden and Portugal, and brought road chaos to Italy, Austria and the Czech Republic.

Worst hit was northeastern France, where 5,000 to 10,000 people spent a chilly night behind the wheel after traffic ground to a halt on a stretch of road between the towns of Toul and Nancy, regional authorities said.

Emergency services were called in to provide them with food and drink for the night, and nearby sports centers and town halls were turned into makeshift shelters.

Traffic gradually resumed yesterday, although it was hampered by ice and snow.

Below-freezing conditions have gripped northern Europe for several days, with nighttime temperatures falling as low as 5 degrees in places.

Snowfall in the eastern half of England forced hundreds of trains to be canceled, spelling hassle for Britons traveling to work on the first day after the Christmas break.

Sports fixtures were disrupted with several soccer matches and horse races called off, and forecasters predicted that up to 10 inches of snow could fall in eastern Scotland and northeastern England overnight.

In Germany, flights were delayed by up to 30 minutes out of the Frankfurt and Stuttgart airports, as the country was blanketed almost entirely in white, with more heavy snowfall expected in the coming days.

Sweden is accustomed to seasonal temperatures well below freezing, but Sturup airport in the southern city of Malmo was closed for several hours because of snow on the runways, forcing flights to be diverted to Copenhagen.

More blizzards and strong winds were expected overnight in both Sweden and Denmark.

In the Czech Republic, the highway linking Prague to the country’s second-largest city, Brno, was closed for several hours yesterday morning after a collision involving four trucks in thick snow.

The road link from Brno to the Austrian capital, Vienna, was shut down after a Polish truck carrying 4 tons of wood crashed into an embankment in snowy weather.

Authorities said at least 11 trucks jackknifed in the province of Lower Austria, making many roadways impassable, and the snow appeared to be a factor in a crash that killed a driver in the town of Mistelbach.

In northern Italy, heavy snowfall caused the closure of several highway links to southeastern France.

In Turkey, where the cold claimed four lives this week, temperatures plummeted overnight to minus 24 degrees in the eastern mountain area of Agri.

More than 1,000 villages remained cut off by deep snow that blocked access to about 3,300 hamlets earlier this week.

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