North Europe freeze kills 12 in Poland, disrupts transport

WARSAW/LONDON, Dec 3 - Twelve people froze to death in Poland overnight and air, rail and road traffic across Northern Europe remained badly disrupted by snow and ice Friday.

In Germany, a record-breaking cold snap and heavy snow this week was expected to hit growth slightly, the second time low temperatures have affected growth this year.

“A lot of construction projects have been halted, a lot of business trips have been postponed and freight transport has become quite difficult,” Volker Treier, chief economist of the chamber of industry and commerce (DIHK), told Reuters.

Britain’s second busiest airport, Gatwick, reopened but an airport official said flights would be severely disrupted. The Eurostar train service linking Britain to France and Belgium said delays and cancellations would continue until Sunday.

Every winter in Poland and parts of the former Soviet Union many people die in the snow, mostly homeless or drunk. The latest figure from the Polish Interior Ministry brought the total killed in the past three days to 30.

In Ukraine, the Emergencies Ministry said at least four people had been found dead from the cold over the past four days in the western regions of Lviv, Zhytomyr and Ternopil.

Severe frost also left some 150,000 people in the southern Polish city of Czestochowa without heating early Friday.

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In Britain, train passengers have been stuck on freezing trains and many schools were closed for most of the week.

The disruptions have prompted widespread criticism of the country’s ability to handle bad weather, and the transport minister has ordered a review of how the system has responded.

The icy weather is estimated to have cost the UK economy some 1.2 billion pounds ($1.9 billion) a day, with commuters struggling to get to work and the pre-Christmas trading period hit by delivery delays.

“The Federation of Small Businesses is disappointed that we still haven’t learnt the lessons from previous bad weather and that the country has yet again ground to a halt,” the federation’s chairman, John Walker, said.

Germany’s Trier noted that harsh winter conditions at the start of 2010 had shaved about a half a percentage point off growth in the first quarter.

“But even if the snow and cold weather cost a few 10ths of a percentage point (from growth), it won’t change the fact that 2010 will be an excellent year,” Treier said.

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The government expects the economy to grow by 3.4 percent this year after contracting 4.7 percent in 2009.

Snow has caused travel chaos across much of northern Europe and Eurostar said it would be operating a reduced timetable until Sunday, with delays of up to 90 minutes. It advised people to postpone all but essential travel.

Britain’s Gatwick airport reopened at 0600 GMT after being closed for three days, but a spokeswoman said severe delays and cancellations were expected.

“The conditions are still severe, but the guys on the ground managed to clear the snow and ice on the runway, so there will be limited flights as the day progresses,” she said.