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Mein! Parents fight for sleds as Europe shivers

European cold snap, awfully cold in some places, sends snow to clog roads and airports, knocks out electricity and induces hoorays from schoolchildren kept home from school.
People ride on sledges at the Town Moor in Newcastle, northeast England, on Thursday, as the severe weather continues across England. In Germany, parents battle to find a sled.Scott Heppell / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Snow settled near France's Mediterranean shores. German parents battled to buy sleds. British horse races called off over too much ice.

A European cold snap — awfully cold in some places — saw snow clog roads and airports Friday, knock out electricity and induce hoorays from schoolchildren kept home from school. The low temperatures, prompted by an Arctic weather system, are set to continue through the weekend.

Britain, already deep in its longest cold spell in nearly 30 years, registered its chilliest night yet this season: minus 22.3 degrees Celsius (minus 8.1 Fahrenheit) in the Scottish Highlands village of Altnaharra.

British authorities have used up so much grit on icy roads that on Friday they started to run out, leaving thousands of secondary roads and sidewalks untreated and turning them into sheets of black ice that stretched for blocks.

Gatwick Airport officials said 18,000 tons of snow had been removed from runways in recent days. A dozen flights were canceled out of Marseille-Provence airport in southern France.

'Running out of supplies'
For desperate parents from Britain to Berlin, the biggest challenge hasn't been snow-choked roads but finding a sled.

Manufacturers of all types of snow-slipping vehicles, from traditional wooden-runner sleds to plastic bobsleds with breaks are thrilled at the boom after years of fearing they had become victims of global warming.

"There hasn't been a run on sleds like this one since at least 25 years," said Michael Ress, owner Ress Kutschen sled factory in Schwebheim, Germany.

Ress' eight employees are currently working at maximum capacity, putting together 100 beech-wood sleds per day. The entire forthcoming production of this season's 3,000 sleds, which go for 35 euros (about $50), has already been sold in advance.

"We're running out of supplies," said Ress, adding that he was forced to order certain metal parts from Asia because his usual German suppliers were out of stock.

Hot drinks served on ice
In London, the harsh weather dominated Friday's Cabinet meeting, and commuters struggled to get to many Underground stations because of the ice buildup.

British union officials pleaded with employers to offer hot drinks to people working outside. A charity call center set up to help the elderly cope with the snow and ice was shut down because workers could not get to the office.

In France, snow piled up from Normandy to Marseille on the Mediterranean shore. Some 30 centimeters (11.8 inches) of snow fell on Arles and Avignon in southern France, according to the regional traffic center, and snowdrifts piled higher than a meter (3.3 feet).

Stay home and stay out of your cars, the top official in France's Drome region urged residents. Snowstorms cut electricity to thousands of homes, according to Electricite de France.

Much of Spain was also shivering. A nature park in the normally temperate Murcia region in the southeast turned on heaters at a pen housing three giraffes more accustomed to Savannah-like climes.

In the Catalonia region centered on Barcelona, snowy conditions prevented 72 schools from reopening after the Christmas vacation, providing an extra day off for more than 16,000 children.

Downpour, flooding
Heavy rains caused flooding across central and southern Italy, and authorities in Rome are watching the rising level of the Tiber. Northern Italy was blanketed by snow, while Venice faced the "acqua alta" phenomenon — exceptionally high tides which often flood most of the lagoon city in winter.

View images of wintry cold that rang in 2010 around the world – from the U.S. to Bangladesh.

In Sweden, temperatures dropped to -38.7 C (-37.6 F), the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute said. That put a strain on the country's energy supplies, as Swedes heat up their houses more and imports are down from energy-rich neighbor Norway, facing its old cold snap.

Heavy snowfall forced the Czech Republic to close two busy border crossings to trucks — one with Germany and the other one with Slovakia.

Train companies, including the cross-Channel Eurostar, were running reduced service. A Eurostar train traveling from Brussels to London broke down in the Channel Tunnel on Thursday, but the head of the French train authority SNCF, Guillaume Pepy, said it "was linked to signal problems that have nothing to do with the cold."

That was a relief to commuters because last month Eurostar came to a standstill for days because of train breakdowns that left thousands of passengers stranded in the tunnel. Why? The company identified the problem as unusually dry, powdery snow that got into the trains' engines.

The cold is freezing out sporting types, too. Three British Premier League football matches for Saturday have been postponed, and 10 of 16 matches in the Scottish Cup were called off. Two horse racing events — at Newcastle and Kelso next week — have been called off because of heaps of snow on already-frozen tracks.