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Travel chaos in Europe; more blizzards forecast

Transportation grinds to a virtual halt in many parts of Europe as tens of thousands of travelers are stranded at airports and train and bus trips are canceled. More bad weather is forecast.

December 20, 2010|By Kim Willsher, Los Angeles Times
  • Travelers sleep at Zaventem International Airport near Brussels.
Travelers sleep at Zaventem International Airport near Brussels. (Thierry Roge / Reuters )

Reporting from Paris — Large portions of Europe remained paralyzed Sunday as a new wave of heavy snow and ice swept the continent as far south as Italy, shutting down airports, highways and train routes.

Though a white Christmas appeared to be in the cards for much of Northern Europe, the prospect brought little cheer to travelers struggling to reach home or vacation destinations.

Tens of thousands of passengers were left stranded as flights at Europe's busiest airports in London, Paris and Frankfurt were canceled or severely delayed at one of the busiest times of the year. Trains in Northern Europe that were still running were subject to severe speed restrictions, trucks were banned from roads, bus and coach services were nonexistent, and road conditions were deemed treacherous.

Forecasters called the conditions "freak weather" but warned there was more to come.

Among the many affected was Lady Gaga, who had to cancel a concert in Paris because trucks hauling sets for her show were not able to reach their destination.

Britain and Ireland were the worst hit, and meteorologists said this December is likely to be the coldest since 1910.

Heathrow Airport, Europe's busiest, ground to a halt at one point Sunday with all flights canceled as workers struggled to clear 33 tons of snow from each of the airport's 200 aircraft parking areas. Donna O'Brien, spokeswoman for the airport's operator, said more than 200,000 passengers were due to take off from Heathrow on Sunday and most were unable to leave.

Delays at Heathrow were expected to continue well into the week.

A quarter of scheduled flights were canceled from Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. About 700,000 people had been expected to travel through De Gaulle and Paris' second airport, Orly, over the weekend.

The Eiffel Tower was closed because of the snow.

The French national rail company SNCF said trains were running but warned of severe speed restrictions and delays for the estimated 2.4 million travelers expected at stations over the weekend.

The French meteorological office warned of another "intense spell of snow," with up to 8 inches in some regions, that it said would be considerably heavier than in previous days. It also warned that temperatures would drop again overnight, causing roads and pavement to freeze over.

By Sunday evening, Frankfurt airport, Germany's busiest, had canceled nearly 600 of the scheduled 1,300 flights. On Saturday, police were called when it appeared that some frustrated passengers might become violent, but the atmosphere was said to have calmed on Sunday.

Airport authorities drafted staffers to dress as angels and walk the terminals in the hope they would calm travelers' anger.

"Our timetables are in utter shambles," an airport representative told the German news agency DPA.

Many at Frankfurt and airports in London, Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels spent the night on terminal floors because hotels were full.

Snow fell in Rome and even on Capri, the island in the Bay of Naples, according to the Italian news agency ANSA. High-speed train service among Milan, Rome and Florence was canceled, leaving 5,000 passengers stranded.

The travel disruptions also affected Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, Bulgaria and Croatia.

Willsher is a special correspondent.

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