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Europe

Winter weather causes deaths, travel disruptions

As Europeans suffer from the first cold snap of the winter, travelers have been facing delays and cancelations. Deaths were reported in Germany, Poland, Lithuania and the Czech Republic.

A thermometer showing minus 11 degrees Celsius

The mercury has hardly had to spread itself thin this December

An early cold snap, along with heavy snowfall and ice, has been wreaking havoc across northern Europe, causing deaths and bringing travel in many countries to a standstill.

Three people were killed in Germany overnight Wednesday in road accidents caused by the weather. In Poland, where temperatures have dropped to as low as minus 33 degrees Celsius (minus 27.4 Fahrenheit), the freezing weather has claimed 18 lives, officials said on Thursday. In neighboring Lithuania and the Czech Republic, an additional eight deaths were reported.

In Frankfurt, hundreds of train passengers were stranded overnight as onward travel was canceled due to snow. Deutsche Bahn rail operator on Thursday warned of delays in the east of the country, where fallen trees, downed power cables and snow had hampered travel. From Wednesday evening, virtually all services were canceled out of Leipzig's main train station.

Planes, trains and automobiles stuck

Workers shovel snow from the walkway in front of Berlin's Brandenburg Gate

Keeping roads, pathways and railway tracks clear is the priority

Train delays also hit England. On Wednesday, hundreds of passengers were forced to spend the night in a freezing train which had failed at a station in Sussex, in the southeast.

France also reported rail delays, as nearly half of Eurostar trains between Paris and London were canceled. Up to 25 percent of flights out of Paris airports Orly and Charles de Gaulle were also stopped.

London's Gatwick airport, Britain's second busiest, stayed shut for a second day, though the international airport in Edinburgh was expected to reopen by late afternoon. Geneva's airport also reopened Thursday, while in Germany, flights were delayed or called off in Frankfurt, Munich and Berlin.

Snowy conditions also led to snarled traffic across the continent, with traffic jams totaling in the hundreds of kilometers in both Belgium and the Netherlands.

Transport operators criticized

A British train on snow-covered tracks in London

Delays and disruptions have been particularly common in the UK

In Britain, widespread criticism of the country's inability to cope with bad weather prompted Transport Secretary Philip Hammond to order a review of how transport operators responded this week.

"Unfortunately, in extreme weather conditions some disruption is inevitable but there is no excuse for poor communication with passengers and motorists," said Hammond. "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."

Forecasters have predicted that Europe's first burst of winter could begin to loosen its icy grip by the weekend.

Author: Martin Kuebler (AFP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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