Snow causes pre-Christmas travel chaos in Europe

BERLIN Sat Dec 18, 2010 4:36am EST

Workers use a blower to remove snow from the tarmac of Zurich airport in Kloten after the region was hit by strong snow falls, December 17, 2010. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann (SWITZERLAND - Tags: ENVIRONMENT TRANSPORT)

Workers use a blower to remove snow from the tarmac of Zurich airport in Kloten after the region was hit by strong snow falls, December 17, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Christian Hartmann (SWITZERLAND - Tags: ENVIRONMENT TRANSPORT)

BERLIN (Reuters) - Heavy snow and freezing temperatures caused travel chaos across northern Europe on Friday, with hundreds of German flights cancelled and icy roads wreaking havoc in Poland and the Netherlands ahead of Christmas.

A spokesman for Frankfurt airport operator Fraport (FRAG.DE) said 400 of 1,400 scheduled flights had been cancelled at continental Europe's busiest airport, even though Germany's financial capital escaped the worst of the winter weather.

Another 100 flights were cancelled in Berlin, which was blanketed in heavy snow throughout the day, leaving city workers scrambling to clear roads and slowing traffic to a crawl in some parts.

In neighbouring Poland, where severe frost has killed 93 people so far this winter, a blast of cold and new train timetables combined to cause chaos on the rail network.

Days of disruption have led to calls by opposition politicians for the dismissal of Infrastructure Minister Cezary Grabarczyk, who apologised in parliament on Friday for the inconvenience suffered by passengers.

"We have been standing in a field for more than an hour now as the electricity packed up on the train," said one rail passenger travelling from Warsaw to the southwestern city of Wroclaw on Friday.

"The heating was down, all the toilets closed and there was no way to get something hot to drink," she said, declining to give her name.

In the Netherlands, highways became covered in ice, two tunnels were closed due to ice and an accident, and 500 km (300 miles) of traffic jams formed, the Dutch transport group ANWB said on its Twitter feed.

Amsterdam Schiphol Airport said dozens of flights had been cancelled and public transport in Dutch cities was sharply reduced.

In Britain, fresh snowfall threatened to throw road, rail and air travel into disarray.

London's Gatwick airport was open but said it expected significant snowfall throughout Saturday "so delays and cancellations are highly likely." Budget carrier easyJet (EZJ.L) had already cancelled some flights and "all passengers should check with their airline before setting out for the airport."

Motorists were warned to take great care on icy roads and police in Northern Ireland and parts of Scotland told drivers to avoid non-essential travel.

British Energy Minister Charles Hendry warned that more bad weather over Christmas could lead to "very serious" shortages of domestic heating oil.

Speaking in parliament, he said higher demand along with delayed deliveries and soaring oil prices meant homes might have to wait as long as four weeks for supplies. (Reporting by Isabel Scoles in London, Eric Kelsey in Berlin, Gabriela Baczynska in Warsaw, Gilbert Kreijger in Amsterdam and Maria Sheahan in Frankfurt; Writing by Noah Barkin; editing by Tim Pearce)

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