Video: Snow, ice paralyze European travel

  1. Closed captioning of: Snow, ice paralyze European travel

    >>> now to travel and weather here at home. so far, so good for domestic travel as a busy week gets under way, but for those heading overseas, not a good mix. a lot of holiday plans are in chaos as flights bound to and across europe have been disrupted by a severe winter storm . we have more from london.

    >> reporter: covered in a blanket of snow, this is a picture postcard image of buckingham palace most tourists never see. anyone hoping to hop across the pond may want to think again. all flights into and out of the uk's busiest airport are grounded tonight. this flight from miami did manage to land in arctic conditions only to be frozen out on the runway for more than five hours.

    >> my gram passed away. i won't be getting back to the states for her funeral.

    >> reporter: roads have been paralyzed by blizzards while many motorists were trapped in their vehicles overnight, hundreds of cars were abandoned in germany and italy. in britain, despite heavy duty equipment, rescue services are struggling with thousands of breakdowns each hour. northern ireland has seen its heaviest snowfall in 25 years. in scotland, temperatures plummeted to minus 15. though the snowfall has now eased off in central london , many of these minor roads are virtually impassable. that's simply because no effort has been made to salt or grit them.

    >> we do come under fire for salting and gritting. they don't understand why residential roads aren't done but there's only so much we can do.

    >> reporter: the last weekend before christmas is usually the busiest of the year for travelers heading home for the holidays but those still stranded are getting a rare glimpse of britain's most famous landmarks covered in

NBC News and news services
updated 12/19/2010 3:51:10 AM ET 2010-12-19T08:51:10

Blizzards and freezing temperatures shut down runways, train tracks and highways across Europe on Saturday, disrupting flights and leaving shivering drivers stranded on roadsides.

Airports in Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Spain and Denmark reported cancellations or delays to flights Saturday.

London's Heathrow Airport would not accept any arrivals Sunday and would allow only a handful of departures after snow and ice forced the closure of runways, but was preparing for a full reopening Monday, according to a statement on its website.

"We are extremely sorry for the disruption this will cause to passengers and airlines and we stress that passengers must check with their airline before travelling to the airport," airport operator BAA said.

Several hundred workers were doing their best "to keep passengers in the terminal as warm and as comfortable as possible while we do everything we can to get Heathrow moving," BAA said.

London's Gatwick airport reopened late afternoon after 150 employees using dozens of snow plows worked to clear the runway, though officials warned flights would be limited and cancellations likely.

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As Ireland was battered by its worst snow in decades, airports in Belfast and Dublin remained open but warned on their websites of cancellations and delays.

Conditions on U.K. roads were treacherous, Automobile Association official Darron Burness said. "One of the biggest problems is that large amounts of snow are falling very quickly on to frozen surfaces, making driving hazardous," he said.

Dutch doldrums
Travelers at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport were also impacted, with around 3,000 people forced to spend the night in the terminals after the snow forced air travel to grind to a halt, according to DutchNews.

A number of the passengers were stranded in the airport because of the hard-hit public transport infrastructure, while others were stranded because their flights were cancelled, according to the website.

About 1,700 camp beds had been put out for travelers, while others reportedly slept on benches and chairs.

The airport's problems were set to continue throughout Sunday because of bad weather throughout Europe, DutchNews reported. More snow was expected throughout the day and below-zero temperatures were set to make driving hazardous.

'Very bad out there'
Hundreds of motorists were left stranded on the major route in northwestern England following a deluge, prompting police patrols to offer food and water to drivers.

Jeremy Clarkson, host of BBC motoring program "Top Gear" said he was among drivers forced to abandon their vehicles close to Oxford, west of London. "It was very bad out there," he said.

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In Italy, the Autostrada of the Sun — the country's main north-south highway — was jammed with hundreds of vehicles, whose chilly occupants slept in their cars, vans or trucks. Though snow had mainly cleared or melted early Saturday, the highway was still closed in one direction, with traffic backed up for nearly 25 miles.

The snowfall also forced high-speed trains to bypass Florence's central Santa Maria Novella station, stopping in suburban stations instead.

Paris was sprinkled with a light coat of snow overnight, as many people prepared to set off on their Christmas vacations. More snow was predicted Saturday, leading civil aviation authorities to cancel 15 percent of flights at Charles de Gaulle airport between 4 p.m. and 11 p.m.

Many flights were also canceled in northeastern France, where snow already blanketed the ground, and services were also canceled at the airports in the cities of Nantes and Rennes.

Significant numbers of domestic and European flights were canceled at Germany's Frankfurt airport as it dealt with the disruption. Germany's railway operator Deutsche Bahn said it was pressing into service all the trains it could — though some journeys were subject to delays. "Everything that can roll is rolling," spokesman Holger Auferkamp told the German news agency DAPD.

Freezing temperatures
The icy weather also swept over large parts of Scandinavia, causing problems particularly in Denmark, where dozens of flights were canceled at the airport in Copenhagen. According to Danish news agency Ritzau, train traffic between Denmark and southern Sweden were also disrupted due to track problems, partly due to the snow, forcing passengers to instead take buses between the two countries.

In Sweden, where media reports suggest the country is experiencing the coldest winter weather this early on in the season since the mid-1800's, several road accidents were reported, with more than 20 in the Stockholm area alone.

Retailers said the poor weather would likely dent sales on what it traditionally the busiest shopping weekend before Christmas. London's Brent Cross indoor shopping mall closed its doors early Saturday afternoon.

Elsewhere, a snowman greeted tourists at London's Camden Market, while traders broke up ice and snow with shovels on the cobblestone paths. Two groups of tourists hurled snowballs at each other across the canal on the edge of the market.

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Britain may experience its coldest December on record, weather service forecaster Mark Seltzer said.

"Temperatures will struggle to get over freezing and although the snow should ease off tonight, it will return to eastern areas on Sunday," he said.

Police in Leicester, central England, said the snowy weather had helped uncover a cannabis factory in the city. Officers raided the premises after spotting that snow had melted on the building's roof as a result of heat from industrial-strength lights used in the cultivation of the drug.

Horse racing meetings and dozens of soccer games in England and Scotland were called off as a result of the conditions, including a high profile match scheduled for Sunday in London between Chelsea and Manchester United.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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