Heavy snow strands Christmas travelers in Europe

BRUSSELS Fri Dec 24, 2010 4:09pm EST

1 of 6. Bags are line-up after cancelled flights due to snow and freezing temperatures in a terminal at the Charles-de-Gaulle airport in Roissy, near Paris, December 24, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Julien Muguet

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Heavy snow stranded thousands of Christmas travelers in parts of Europe on Friday, with Belgium's main airport closed for most of the day to landing and icy roads in Sweden choked with traffic.

Cold weather during the busy Christmas period has disrupted travel and business across Europe this week, and the prolonged period of severe weather is expected to clip economic growth in Germany, Europe's biggest economy.

A spokesman for Brussels' airport said hundreds of beds were ready for stranded passengers after the airport reopened to inbound flights following a day of delays and cancellations.

"The fact of the matter is plenty of people will stay at the airport," said spokesman Jan Van der Cruysse. "As of 4 p.m. (1500 GMT) today, the airport is open to a limited amount of inbound traffic. Departing flights continue but at a slow pace."

"We have already organized hundreds of beds with the Belgian army and Red Cross so that people don't have to sleep on the floor. It is going to be a difficult night."

"I can't remember the weather being this bad in December," he added.

In Sweden, heavy snowfall across southern parts of the country caused major traffic problems on roads and railways for the second day running on Friday.

The Swedish Transport Administration predicted tough weather conditions would disrupt travel on Christmas Day, with many trains likely to be canceled.

About 2,000 people were forced to spend Thursday night at two main airports in Paris as snowfall in the north and east of the country continued to disrupt transport services.

The French government expects hundreds of people to spend Christmas Eve night at Roissy, largely due to a lack of de-icing fluid. About 700 army-style folding beds plus blankets filled terminal areas, and a Santa Claus handed out cuddly toys to stranded children.

Paris airports' authority chief Pierre Graff said de-icer producers were at the limit of what they could deliver. "There was a serious supply problem yesterday which we overcame with some incredible acrobatics," he told RTL radio.

MORE WARNINGS

Friday's disruptions follow travel chaos earlier in the week, when tens of thousands were stranded across Europe as delays and cancellations of flights and high-speed trains were compounded by road travel restrictions.

Authorities throughout Europe warned of further disruptions in the next few days.

Heavy rain in northern Italy caused problems in some cities including Venice, where shoppers and tourists were forced to wade through knee high water in Saint Mark's square.

In Vicenza, to the west of Venice, there were fears that the Bacchiglione river could burst its banks and some residents were evacuated from their homes.

Britain's main air travel hubs had some cancellations and delays on Friday but London's Heathrow, the world's busiest international airport, said both of its runways were open.

Most main roads in England remained clear, but the Highways Agency warned motorists about the danger of icy roads as Britain headed for its coldest December in decades. Parts of Scotland and possibly northeast England were forecast to have a white Christmas.

(Additional reporting by bureau across Europe; Writing by Justyna Pawlak and John O'Donnell; Editing by David Stamp)

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