Snowstorm brings parts of Germany to a standstill; longest cold snap in 3 decades grips UK

By Kirsten Grieshaber, AP
Saturday, January 9, 2010

Frozen Europe: 100s of flights canceled in Germany

BERLIN — A plane slid off an icy runway and powerful winds and heavy snow forced hundreds of flight cancellations across Europe on Saturday as blasts of freezing cold buffeted Europe.

An Air Berlin plane slid off the runway in Nuremberg, Germany, and got stuck in the snow late Friday. Nobody was injured, but the airport was closed for more than two hours.

More than 300 car accidents were reported on icy streets in the southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, with more than 40 people injured. The western state of North Rhine-Westphalia reported 108 accidents.

At the German-French border near Freiburg, hundreds of trucks were stuck for hours when French authorities closed the highway because of heavy snow. The Red Cross handed out blankets and hot soup to the drivers.

By early afternoon, 226 domestic and international flights had been canceled at Frankfurt airport as a low pressure system from the Mediterranean brought gusty winds and several inches (centimeters) of snow. Crews struggled to clear the runways, and the few planes that managed to take off had to be deiced first, said Frankfurt airport duty manager Heinz Fass.

In Britain, cold winds swept in from the north, sending temperatures tumbling to minus 14 degrees Celsius (7 degrees Fahrenheit) in parts of Scotland and northern England. The country is in the midst of its longest cold snap in three decades, and transport has been disrupted in many areas.

The arctic weather — unusual by Britain’s temperate standards — led to record demand for gas. In a Web cast Saturday, Prime Minister Gordon Brown reassured Britons that gas supplies were not running out, even though almost 100 businesses had been asked to stop using gas to conserve supplies. Supplies of salt and sand for gritting dangerously icy roads were also running low.

Heavy snow forced the cancellation of all flights at Dublin Airport in Ireland. Traffic at London’s Heathrow Airport, Europe’s busiest, was also affected, with British Airways alone canceling around 50 flights.

Schoenefeld and Tegel, the main airports in Berlin, as well as Munich airport, also reported cancellations.

In France, dozens of flights were canceled in Toulouse, Lyon and Brest. Heavy snow snapped power lines in the southeast, near the Mediterranean, leaving at least 7,500 homes without power. And at least 12 French Cup soccer matches had to be rescheduled because of the cold, the French football federation said.

But conditions improved in Paris, and late Saturday France’s civil aviation authority lifted an order requiring the cancellation of one flight in four at Charles de Gaulle Airport, France’s busiest.

Wind whipped the snow into yard-high drifts along the Baltic coast of northeast Germany, making roads impassable. Radio stations reported that several villages on the Baltic island of Ruegen were completely cut off.

On Fehrmarn, another Baltic island, farmers were being asked to use their farm machinery to help clear the roads, said Volker Kluetmann, an island official.

“The snow is so high that even the snow plows get stuck,” Kluetmann said.

In Berlin, even the mice were desperate to escape the cold: Swarms of them have taken over the Bundestag, the country’s parliament, the daily newspaper Bild reported. But more than 100 people jumped into a hole in the ice at Oranke Lake as part of an annual Berlin ice-swimming celebration.

The weather has been brutal by Britain’s temperate standards, and local authorities across the country are running out of salt and sand. A clutch of sporting events has been canceled — including five of the seven scheduled Premier League soccer games scheduled for Saturday.

In Sweden, overnight temperatures dropped as low as -31 Fahrenheit (-35 Celsius) inland. Linkoping, a university town 125 miles (200 kilometers) southwest of Stockholm, recorded its lowest temperature since 1979, hitting -16 Fahrenheit, the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute said.

On Friday the agency reported that the Baltic Sea was covered by ice that was 40 centimeters thick in places.

Associated Press writers Raphael Satter in London, Cecile Roux in Paris and Louise Nordstrom in Stockholm contributed to this report.

will not be displayed