Frankfurt Airport shut down amid heavy snowfall
PARIS (AP) -- Frankfurt's airport closed, trains under the English Channel were suspended, and Belgium's prince was among thousands of people stuck at home -- all because of a sudden dump of oddly late snowfall on Western Europe.
Less prepared for the kind of heavy snow that regularly hits northern and eastern neighbors, France, Britain and Belgium struggled Tuesday to keep moving amid the frosty, blustery conditions.
Instead of enjoying the onset of spring, travelers shivered in stranded cars, packed onto icy train platforms, or languished in airport waiting halls. Thousands of schoolchildren stayed home. Thousands of homes were without electricity.
Frankfurt airport, Europe's third busiest, closed at midday after recording about 12 centimeters (5 inches) of snow. More than 200 flights had already been canceled and many others were delayed.
FFM airport spokesman Dieter Hulick said the busiest airport would be closed until 1:30 p.m. (1230 GMT) because snowfall in the Frankfurt area was so heavy that by the time snow ploughs had cleared the runways a fresh layer of snow had already fallen.
The 6,000 flights operated in Europe's skies early Tuesday had already amassed a combined delay of 85,000 minutes by mid-morning, with about 70 percent of the delays weather-related, according to European flight control center Eurocontrol.
Paris airport screens flashed with red warnings after the French civil aviation authority ordered about 300 flights -- a quarter of the day's total -- canceled out of Charles de Gaulle Airport. Orly Airport temporarily suspended all takeoffs and landings to clear away incessant snow.
Brussels airport was forced to operate on a single runway, Eurocontrol said.
Service on the Eurostar trains that go under the English Channel was suspended mid-morning because severe weather in northern France and Belgium forced operators to close sections of the railway, said Eurostar spokeswoman Lucy Drake. Service was suspended for the rest of the day, Eurostar later confirmed on its website.
Office buildings in the French capital -- like those in the European Union's capital, Brussels -- were only partly full. The French train network SNCF urged commuters in the Paris region to stay home Tuesday instead of trying to reach downtown "because of the unfavorable evolution of weather conditions."
In southeastern England, snow and ice stranded hundreds of motorists as temperatures plunged to as low as minus 3 Celsius (27 Fahrenheit), and many motorists abandoned their cars. Traffic backed up for 30 miles (50 kilometers) in some spots, with reports of people being stranded for 10 hours or more.
Among those stuck was a group of 120 German students who had to stay overnight in the town hall at Hastings on the south coast of England when families set to pick them up could not reach them.
Police in Sussex reported responding to more than 300 auto collisions in 24 hours because of slippery roads but no serious injuries were reported.
Belgium had a record 1,600 kilometers of traffic jams during morning rush hour as snowdrifts turned roads slippery and reduced vision. A strong wind made conditions even tougher. Thousands of commuters were left stranded on snowed-in platforms after many trains around the region were canceled.
Snow affected even the workings of government and the royal palace: The start of budgetary negotiations within Belgium's governing coalition was delayed, and Prince Lorenz was unable to travel to Maastricht, the Netherlands, to visit a historical exhibition.
Even the U.S. Embassy in Brussels closed for the day `'due to the continued weather conditions."