Europe struggles with freezing weather

The cold weather bringing chaos to Ireland has also caused problems across large areas of Europe.

The cold weather bringing chaos to Ireland has also caused problems across large areas of Europe.

But it was not bad news for everyone. Sledge makers reported a boom in sales after years of fearing they had become victims of global warming.

“There hasn’t been a run on sleds like this one since at least 25 years,” said Michael Ress, owner of a factory in Schwebheim, Germany.

His eight staff are working at maximum capacity, putting together 100 beech-wood sledges a day. The entire forthcoming production of this season’s 3,000 sledges, which sell for €39, has already been taken in advance.

“We’re running out of supplies,” said Mr Ress, adding that he was forced to order certain metal parts from Asia because his usual German suppliers were out of stock.

In France, snow piled up from Normandy to Marseille on the Mediterranean shore. Almost 12 inches of snow fell on Arles and Avignon in southern France.

Stay home and stay out of your cars, the top official in France’s Drome region urged residents. Snowstorms cut electricity to thousands of homes.

A dozen flights were cancelled out of Marseille-Provence airport in southern France.

Much of Spain was also shivering. A nature park in the normally temperate Murcia region in the south-east turned on heaters at a pen housing three giraffes more accustomed to warmer climes.

In the Catalonia region centred on Barcelona snow prevented 72 schools from reopening after the Christmas vacation, providing an extra day off for more than 16,000 children.

Heavy rains caused flooding across central and southern Italy, and authorities in Rome are watching the rising level of the Tiber. Northern Italy was blanketed by snow, while Venice faced the “acqua alta” phenomenon – exceptionally high tides which often flood most of the lagoon city in winter.

In Sweden, temperatures dropped to -38.7C, straining the country’s energy supplies.

Heavy snow forced the Czech Republic to close two busy border crossings to trucks – one with Germany and the other one with Slovakia.

Travelling Britons braved more icy blasts today as the severe weather did its best to wreck the country’s transport links.

With councils running low on salt stocks to treat roads, travellers had to show true grit just to complete the simplest of journeys.

Transport Secretary Lord Adonis told his Cabinet colleagues that salting of motorway hard shoulders was being ended to preserve stocks for other areas.

Road conditions on major routes improved today, but many side roads remained treacherous.

Eurostar was just one of the train companies operating a reduced service today, prompting Europe Minister Chris Bryant to complain on the Twitter website about the Channel Tunnel company.

Once again, a series of broken-down trains added to the problems of rail passengers already having to cope with fewer-than-normal trains, with a breakdown at Birmingham causing delays of up to an hour.

Major airports remained open, but British Airways and easyJet were among carriers that had to cancel flights.

Flight cancellations at Gatwick – where more than 100 flights were axed yesterday – were down to 17 today, but passengers at the West Sussex airport were scornful of the UK’s ability to cope with an extreme winter.

The Highways Agency, which is responsible for England’s motorways and major A roads, said that it would continue to salt hard shoulders on the sections of the M6 and M42 on which road users are allowed to drive at busy times.

Local authorities said they were revising their salt plans to ensure the most important roads were gritted.

For the first time for some days, no major roads in England were closed today, although broken-down vehicles caused lane closures and delays.

The RAC said its patrol teams had attended 5,000 call-outs by midday today and 250,000 since the cold weather began on December 18.

It said it was receiving around 1,500 calls an hour – more than twice as many as normal. The busiest areas today were Manchester and the Wirral, Scotland, the West Midlands and Wales.

The AA said it had dealt with 340,000 breakdowns since the evening of December 17 – more than double the normal amount over this period.

AA president Edmund King said: “In our entire history we have never been as busy as we have been over the last few weeks.”

On the railways, some services were cancelled and, in places, road conditions were too poor for bus replacement services to run.

The Association of Train Operating Companies said that, up to 1pm, a total of 62% of the trains due to run under the revised schedules today had been on time, with 31% late and 7% cancelled.

Mr Bryant, who was caught up in a Eurostar delay, posted on the Twitter website: “I am rapidly developing a very severe hatred of Eurostar as we are travelling at about a mile a year.”

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