Eight die as heavy snow sweeps across Europe

HEAVY snow and sub-zero temperatures swept across Europe, killing at least eight homeless people in Poland, closing major airports in Britain and Switzerland and causing hundreds of highway accidents.

Gatwick, London’s second largest airport, and Geneva were forced to shut yesterday as staff struggled to clear runways of snow, along with Edinburgh airport in Scotland and Lyon-Bron in southeastern France.

Eurocontrol, the central air control agency, reported severe flight delays in northern Spain, southern Germany and Austria.

In Poland, police said eight men died on Tuesday night after a bitter cold front roared in, with temperatures falling to around -20 Celsius.

Police spokesman Mariusz Sokolowski said the men, from different parts of the country, had been drinking. The eastern Polish city of Bialystok hit -26 Celsius (-15 Fahrenheit) on Tuesday night.

Winter weather caused some 2,000 accidents on German roads on Tuesday, officials said.

Police in northern Austria said a 69-year-old retiree froze to death when he slipped on a snow-covered bridge on his way home from a funeral and lost consciousness.

Officials at Gatwick said the airport would remain closed until early today, stranding about 600 flights that were expected to leave yesterday. Extra staff were working “around the clock” to clear the runways, and passengers were advised to check with their airline or Gatwick’s website for updates.

Zurich, Switzerland’s biggest airport, reported delays and cancellations on the day many VIPs, including former president Bill Clinton and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, were travelling to FIFA’s headquarters to push their countries’ bids to host the 2018 and 2022 football World Cups.

Some 60 flights were cancelled at Frankfurt airport, Germany’s largest, since planes were not able to fly in on Tuesday, but there were no weather delays yesterday.

Swiss weather agency Meteosuisse forecast more snow throughout the day as a low-pressure front centred over western Europe moves slowly eastward.

“We’ve got unusually cold air over large parts of the eastern Atlantic, and where that meets warm air coming for example from the Mediterranean you have a lot of snow,” said meteorologist Heinz Maurer.

He predicted that snowfall would ease in central Europe by today, but nights will remain extremely cold.

La Brevine, in northwestern Switzerland, recorded temperatures of -31 degrees Celsius (-24 Fahrenheit) overnight, Maurer said.

Even the Channel Tunnel was hit with travel delays due to the snow. Six Eurostar trains to and from London were cancelled.

In Poland, the bad weather was also blamed for a collision between a tram and a car that killed one person in Szczecin.

Further south, 300 people were evacuated in the northern part of Montenegro because of heavy rains.

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