For snow-starved Europe, famine, then feast

African elephant Tonga, left, pushes her daughter Mongu as they trudge through snow Thursday in their enclosure at the Schoenbrunn zoo in Vienna. Eastern Austria was hit by heavy snowfalls causing major traffic problems.Hans Punz / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Winter’s fury arrived late but with a vengeance across Europe on Thursday, dumping snow that wreaked havoc with Switzerland’s famously efficient trains and gave Rome and the Mediterranean island of Mallorca a rare white blanket.

Heavy snow stranded Ukraine’s new president, Viktor Yushchenko, in Poland and forced him to cancel a much-anticipated trip to Brussels, Belgium, for his first address to the European Parliament.

A plane carrying mail from Romania to Hungary crashed in snowy weather near Iasi in northeastern Romania early Thursday, killing the two Hungarian pilots, authorities said. In the city of Sibiu, meanwhile, a pilot aborted a takeoff to Munich because of a snow-clogged runway.

Whipped by high winds, snow blanketed northern and eastern Romania, closing several highways and cutting power to about 14 villages in the county of Harghita. More than five feet of snow isolated areas of north and east Albania, and the government said it would send in food and army machinery to open blocked roads.

‘Snow hell’ in Austria
In Austria, authorities closed key highways to truck traffic after more than 200 big rigs became stuck along with hundreds of cars, some still fitted with summer tires. Austria’s motor club called the scene “a snow hell,” and politicians called for tougher penalties for people who drive in winter without snow tires.

Ninety-four percent use them, “but the 6 percent who don’t are causing chaos on Austria’s roads,” complained Werner Miedl, who handles transportation issues for the ruling People’s Party.

About a foot of snow fell on Vienna, the Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics said.

With classes canceled at many schools, students lugged snowboards up into the Vienna Woods, which were blanketed by snow for the first time since early December. The snow led to cancellations and long delays for people traveling on international trains.

A blanket over Rome
Rome awoke to a light blanket of snow on cars and in parks in the higher parts of the city. The rare snowfall in Italy’s capital held up commuter trains entering the city.

Farther south, part of the main highway that runs toward Calabria on Italy’s toe was closed to traffic, and rescue workers used cranes to free heavy vehicles stuck in the snow, the ANSA news agency reported.

In Slovakia, heavy snowfall tied up traffic throughout the country, and in the Czech Republic, the army was called in to help clear snow from roads in the hard-hit northeast.

Heavy snow storms isolated 13 villages in southwest Hungary and made numerous roads impassible, state-run news agency MTI reported Thursday. Tibor Dobson, spokesman for the National Catastrophe Agency, said the settlements were accessible only by tractors and Jeeps.

Paris, when it shivers
Heavy snow in central France closed numerous schools and a stretch of highway. Nationwide, a cold snap broke the previous record for electricity consumption, set in January 2003, as chilly homeowners turned up their thermostats, and in Paris, shelters scrambled to make more space for the homeless.

In Switzerland, winds of 107 mph were clocked on the peak of La Dole in the Jura mountains north of Geneva, creating blizzard-like conditions.

Even the Swiss trains, famed for their clocklike precision, were affected: The schedule between Geneva and Lausanne was suspended two hours after high winds blew snow on the tracks.

Spain's mountain towns cut off
Heavy snow blocked roads and isolated hundreds of mountain towns in central and northern Spain. More than 1,000 people were trapped overnight on a major highway in the province of Bargos and were temporary housed in sports complexes, police said.

Snow also fell on the usually balmy island of Mallorca, and temperatures plummeted to minus 4 in parts of the Pyrenees.

In Montenegro, heavy snow led to the closure of the airport in Podgorica, the capital, and left dozens of cars stranded on the roads. Michael Polt, the U.S. ambassador to Serbia-Montenegro, scrapped a visit to Podgorica because of the bad weather.