World News

French motorists camp out as snow smothers Paris

Cars drive in a snow-covered street in Paris December 8, 2010 as winter weather and sub-freezing temperatures continue in northern France. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

PARIS (Reuters) - Several thousand Parisians were forced to spend the night in emergency shelters or their cars, and transport remained chaotic on Thursday, after a blanket of snow fell on the French capital.

City authorities asked residents to avoid using their cars after the heaviest snowfall in nearly a quarter of a century covered city streets with ice and slush, causing traffic jams that prevented commuters getting home on Wednesday night.

“Stuck”, read a headline in the popular daily Le Parisien, while Le Figaro heralded “The great freezing of Paris”. TV images showed people sleeping on mattresses in school gymnasiums and emergency workers serving them food.

The interior ministry said 3,300 people spent the night in some 78 shelters around Paris, as the snow paralysed cars, taxis and buses and slowed suburban trains. Grounded passengers slept in airports after flights were cancelled. Icy conditions kept several highways shut on Thursday despite salting operations.

“We had to deal with a weather phenomenon with no precedent in the last generation,” Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said on Europe 1 radio. Many motorists had slept in their cars as black ice and slush made driving impossible, he said.

In some places, the snowfall reached 11 cm (4.3 inches), the most since 1987. The Eiffel Tower was temporarily closed.

People packed into the underground metro system, which was crammed full of shuffling commuters on Thursday.

“We formally advise all road users against driving on the greater Paris region road network except in cases of absolute professional need,” the Paris prefect’s office said.

Reporting by Patrick Vignal; Writing by Nick Vinocur; Editing by Catherine Bremer and Paul Taylor