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Some of the wrecked vehicles in an accident on highway A45 between Giessen and Hanau near the city of Woelfersheim, Germany, yesterday. More than 100 vehicles were involved in a pile-up after they crashed on the snowy highway. Below right: Commuter trains are blocked at a railway station in Paris. More than 68,000 homes were without electricity in France. BELOW LEFT: Passengers await updated information of their flights at the airport in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany, after 355 of 1,250 flights were cancelled due to heavy snowfall.
BRUSSELS/PARIS/FRAN-KFURT: An overnight snowstorm in northwestern Europe forced the closure of Frankfurt Airport, caused record traffic jams in Belgium, and left British and French drivers sleeping in their cars.
Take-offs and landings at Europe’s third-busiest airport were halted yesterday noon for two hours to clear snow from the runways. Airlines, including Deutsche Lufthansa, cancelled about 700 flights of a daily total of 1,200 as the airport was only partially reopened in the afternoon.
Snow and ice contributed to several accidents about 50km from Frankfurt on the A45 motorway, including a massive pile-up involving as many as 100 cars and trucks.
In France, a Tunisair plane slid off the runway on landing at Orly airport, forcing the closure of a runway at Paris’s second hub while 140 passengers were evacuated.
In Belgium, the breakdown assistance association Touring said the total length of tailbacks on highways and major roads at their rush-hour peak hit 1,670km, beating by far the previous record of 1,285 km set on February 3 last year.
“There was too much snow at the wrong moment. If it snows a lot at night, the salt doesn’t work as there aren’t enough cars to spread it around,” Touring spokesman Danny Smagghe said. On a normal day, total morning rush-hour traffic jams average 250-270km.
The high-speed Eurostar train service connecting London with the French and Belgian capitals and the Thalys line linking Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam in the Netherlands and Cologne in Germany were both suspended. Brussels’s two main railway stations were closed.
France’s civil aviation authority cancelled a quarter of flights at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, the second-largest in Europe after London’s Heathrow, and a fifth at Orly. Brussels airport reported extensive delays and some diversions of planes to Ostend or Amsterdam.
Social media were full of messages about the unusual mid-March snowfall of up to 20cm and the cold. It was set to be the first mid-March day since 1925 that the daytime temperature in Belgium had not risen above freezing.
In southeastern England and northern France, hundreds of drivers spent the night in their cars. Nearly a third of France’s regions were on alert and the government activated a ministerial crisis group. Two northern French regions, Calvados and Manche, were under a “red alert” urging resident to stay indoors — the first time such an alert was activated because of snow. More than 2,000 people were stranded in their cars overnight as heavy snow paralysed roads in Normandy and Brittany, with many spending the night in emergency shelters.
About 80,000 homes in the north and northwest of France were without power, following snowfalls of up to 30cm and winds creating metre-high snowdrifts. Schools in some northern regions were closed. Two people were reported to have died in France, one a homeless man, another an elderly person trying to get home.
Hundreds were also stuck in their cars overnight in Britain, some for more than 10 hours as ice, snow and freezing winds descended on southeastern England. Police, rescue services, snow ploughs and gritting lorries battled to help the motorists in temperatures as low as -3 degrees Celsius, with some areas under 10cm of snow.
High winds and snowdrifts also caused traffic chaos in southern parts of the Netherlands.