|A statue of Winston Churchill was blanketed by snow in London’s Parliament Square yesterday. The storm forced closings of the city’s Gatwick and Heathrow airports. (Leon Neal/ AFP/ Getty Images)|
Wintry weather stalls Europe
Flights canceled, roads left snarled
LONDON — Snowstorms and freezing temperatures shut down runways, train tracks, and highways across Europe yesterday, disrupting flights and leaving shivering drivers stranded on roadsides.
Airports in Britain, Germany, France, Spain, the Netherlands, and Denmark reported cancellations or delays to flights.
London’s Gatwick Airport reopened in late afternoon after 150 employees using dozens of snowplows worked to clear the runway, though officials warned flights would be limited.
London’s Heathrow Airport will be closed until today.
“We currently have hundreds of staff working to clear the runways, taxiways, stands, and forecourts and are providing blankets and water for passengers as we strive to get Heathrow moving,’’ the airport said in a prepared statement.
Conditions on British roads were treacherous, Automobile Association official Darron Burness said.
“One of the biggest problems is that large amounts of snow are falling very quickly onto frozen surfaces, making driving hazardous,’’ he said.
Hundreds of motorists were left stranded on a major road in northwestern England following a deluge, prompting police patrols to offer food and water to drivers.
Jeremy Clarkson, co-host of the BBC motoring program “Top Gear,’’ said he was among drivers forced to abandon their vehicles near Oxford, west of London. “It was very bad out there,’’ he said.
In Italy, the Autostrada del Sole — the country’s main north-south highway — was jammed with hundreds of vehicles whose chilled occupants slept in their cars, vans, or trucks. Though snow had mainly cleared or melted by early yesterday, the highway was still closed in one direction, with traffic backed up for nearly 25 miles.
The snowfall also forced high-speed trains to bypass Florence’s central Santa Maria Novella station, stopping in suburban stations instead.
Paris was sprinkled with a light coat of snow overnight, as many people prepared to set off on their Christmas vacations. More snow was predicted yesterday, leading civil aviation authorities to cancel 15 percent of flights at Charles de Gaulle Airport between 4 and 11 p.m.
Many flights were also canceled in northeastern France, where snow already blanketed the ground, and services were also canceled at the airports in the cities of Nantes and Rennes.
Significant numbers of domestic and European flights were canceled at Germany’s Frankfurt Airport as it dealt with the disruption. Germany’s railway operator Deutsche Bahn said it was pressing into service all the trains it could — though some journeys were subject to delays.
“Everything that can roll is rolling,’’ spokesman Holger Auferkamp told the German news agency DAPD.
The icy weather also swept over large parts of Scandinavia, causing problems particularly in Denmark, where dozens of flights were canceled at the airport in Copenhagen.
In Sweden, where media reports suggest the country is experiencing the coldest winter weather this early on in the season since the mid-1800s, several road accidents were reported, with more than 20 in the Stockholm area alone.
Retailers said the poor weather would likely dent sales on what is traditionally the busiest shopping weekend before Christmas. London’s Brent Cross indoor shopping mall closed its doors early yesterday afternoon.
Britain may experience its coldest December on record, weather service forecaster Mark Seltzer said.