Europe counting cost of big freeze

EUROPE was yesterday battling to cope with the Arctic freeze amid warnings over the cost of the lengthy cold snap which has seen thousands of flights and train journeys cancelled and caused dozens of deaths.

Some villages in northeast Germany remained cut off as snowdrifts whipped up by gale force winds made roads and railways unpassable.

“We are slowly fighting our way through the masses of snow,” said a police spokesman in the northern German city of Luebeck.

Weather experts warned falling temperatures meant more snow this week.

At Frankfurt Airport, where 320 flights were cancelled at the weekend, 15 more were scrapped yesterday and authorities warned of further problems.

Spain and Portugal also felt the full force of the harsh winter, with the southern Spanish city of Seville under snow for the first time in half a century.

Authorities sounded the alert across central and northern Spain, with 137 flights cancelled at Madrid-Barajas Airport.

In Portugal, 50 main roads were closed as snow forced scores of people to spend the night stuck in their vehicles. Schools were shut in the worst-hit regions.

In southern Poland, more than 70,000 homes were without power for a second day while heavy snow and freezing rain hit rail traffic between the capital Warsaw and the south.

Prague has had its heaviest snowfalls in 17 years and hundreds of homes across the Czech Republic were without electricity.

In Britain, icy roads and snow showers hampered efforts to get the country moving again, with Eurostar train services from London to Paris and Brussels again restricted.

The Schools Secretary in Britain Ed Balls urged schools to open “if at all possible” as closures threatened exams, and gritting was limited to major roads after grit stocks fell sharply.

The death toll in Britain from weather-related incidents rose to 29 over the weekend, the latest victim a man who fell through ice on the River Tees trying to rescue his two dogs.

Scores of deaths in similar accidents, mountain avalanches or homeless people killed by the cold have been reported across Europe over the past two weeks.

Experts in Germany, which is emerging from its worst recession since World War II, warned that the snow covering the country would hit the economy, freezing construction activity and disrupting supplies.

“The cold weather could really make for a difficult start to what is meant to be a year of growth in 2010,” Volker Treier from the DIHK economics institute told the Bild daily.

If there is no improvement soon, the German economy could lose €2 billion in lost activity, or 0.4% of gross domestic product (GDP) in the first quarter, he said.

Britain is on course to take a hit of €1.1bn from the harshest winter in decades, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR).

But economists believe the impact will be mitigated by Britons working at home to beat the freeze, giving a lift to utility firms and online retailers as they turn up the heating and use the internet for their shopping, helping the economy bounce back.

“Don’t exaggerate [the] economic impact of the freeze – much of the lost GDP will be made up in the coming weeks – but some cash-strapped businesses might be pushed over the edge,” CEBR head Douglas Williams said.

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