Northern Europe counts cost of big freeze



Heavy snow caused travel chaos across much of northern Europe on Thursday, keeping London's Gatwick airport closed for a second day and disrupting road and rail travel in France, Germany and Switzerland.

Days of sub-zero temperatures and snow in Britain, beginning in Scotland and northern England and moving south, have halted flights and trains and could be costing the economy 1.2 billion pounds ($1.87 billion) a day, according to insurer RSA.

Commuters struggled to get to work as Britain's worst early winter weather in almost two decades showed no sign of easing.

Gatwick, Britain's second busiest airport, said it would remain closed until at least 0600 GMT on Friday. Edinburgh airport, operated by BAA, was expected to reopen by 1600 GMT on Thursday after closing all day on Wednesday.

Amid widespread criticism of Britain's inability to cope with bad weather, Transport Secretary Philip Hammond ordered a review of how transport operators had responded this week.

"Complacency is not an option. There are lessons to be learned from our performance in every bout of bad weather and it is important that we learn those now," Hammond said.

British wholesale gas prices rose to their highest level since early 2009 on Thursday on high demand for heating which is draining limited stocks and increasing fears over supplies for the rest of winter.

Last winter was the coldest in Britain for three decades and the authorities had hoped to avoid a repeat of the disruption to travel and businesses that had caused.


Eurostar, which runs train services connecting Britain to France and Belgium, said it would be operating a "significantly reduced timetable on Thursday." Services would be subject to delays of up to 90 minutes and some would be canceled, it said.

France's SNCF state rail company told travelers to expect delays of an hour or so on many services and cancellation of two in 10 trains between Paris and the south-east.

In Germany, scores of flights were canceled and many delayed at airports in Frankfurt, Munich and Berlin.

Berlin suffered road and rail disruptions and temperatures were forecast to fall as far as -20 degrees Celsius in parts of the country on Thursday. Motorists were stranded for several hours on one motorway in the western state of Hesse overnight.

Geneva's Cointrin airport reopened on Thursday after the heaviest snowfall in decades closed its only runway for nearly 36 hours. Hundreds of stranded passengers spent a second night in the airport or in civil protection shelters.

An airport spokesman said losses were running at about 500,000 Swiss francs a day during the closure.

The heaviest snowfall was in western Switzerland, which disrupted rail and road traffic, creating chaos for commuters.

The Interior Ministry said 18 people had died in Poland over the past two days due to the severe weather, which has also disrupted air, road and rail traffic. Wintry weather kills dozens of homeless or drunk people in Poland each year.

A power plant broke down in Leszno near Warsaw on Thursday, depriving some 20,000 people of heating and hot water.

Some flights to and from Warsaw were canceled but the airport remained open.