GENEVA (Reuters) - Snow and icy weather disrupted travel across Europe on Sunday, closing Geneva airport on one of its busiest tourist weekends of the year and prompting a state of emergency on part of Germany’s Baltic coast.
Thousands of passengers were stranded at Geneva’s Cointrin airport after heavy overnight snow kept it closed until noon.
“It was the first time we had so much snow on the runway since 1985,” airport spokesman Bertrand Staempfli said on French-language Swiss radio at midday as departures began.
Delays were expected as frustrated passengers queued to rebook flights at the airport, where 100,000 people had been due to transit over the weekend.
Many British, German and other European skiers use Geneva airport to reach popular Swiss and French ski resorts in the nearby Alpine region, including Verbier.
Hundreds of motorists had to abandon their cars in the northeastern German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, where a foot of snow fell and the district of Ostvorpommern declared a state of emergency, local authorities said.
Schools across the state will stay closed on Monday.
Levees in parts of the neighboring state of Schleswig-Holstein showed cracks on Sunday, threatening low-lying areas with floods, police said. Coastal towns like Flensburg and Travemuende had suffered flooding by afternoon.
In Poland, at least 200,000 households suffered a power outage and shoppers and workers were evacuated from a shopping center in the western city of Leszno when its roof began to give way under 1.5 meters of snow, rescue services said.
A police spokesman said that since the onset of cold weather in October, 152 people had been found frozen to death in Poland.
On Germany’s Baltic island of Fehmarn, some 5,000 residents were shut in by the blizzards, while scores were trapped in their cars for hours on the A20 autobahn because normal snow ploughs could not reach them, authorities said.
German national rail operator Deutsche Bahn said several passenger trains became stuck in snowdrifts and a number of local rail routes in the north were canceled.
The weather had caused over 1,100 road accidents between Saturday and Sunday morning in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, according to the regional government.
A 22-year-old driver died after skidding off the road into a tree at Kerken near the Dutch border. At least 16 people have been badly injured in the state due to the snow since Saturday.
In the southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, snow caused more than 900 road accidents between Friday and midday on Sunday, seriously injuring 15 people and causing 4 million euros of damage, the regional interior ministry said.
Ninety-one flights were canceled on Sunday at Frankfurt airport, Germany’s busiest, compared to 225 the day before.
In Britain, chemical firm Ineos said it had diverted 12,000 metric tones of salt for use on British roads that had originally been destined for Germany.
“Because we’ve been inundated with calls from local authorities, we’ve decided to retain the supplies in the UK,” a spokesman said.
The government told local authorities to reduce the amount of salt they put on roads by a quarter at the end of last week in a bid to conserve supplies.
Additional reporting by Dave Graham in Berlin, Rob Strybel in Warsaw, Christina Fincher in London; Editing by Dominic Evans