Death toll rises in Europe’s big freeze

THE death toll from winter storms across Europe rose to at least 80 yesterday as transport chaos spread amid mounting anger over the failure of Eurostar high-speed trains.

With tens of thousands stranded by the cancellation of London-to-Paris trains and hundreds of flights across the continent, fresh accidents and mass power cuts added to the big freeze tumult.

A car veered off an icy road knocking concrete onto rails that derailed a Paris commuter train, injuring 36, police said.

Another train in the Croatian capital Zagreb hit a buffer, injuring 52. Croatian investigators blamed the -17C temperatures for a brake failure, national television reported. European temperatures as low as -33.6C have been recorded in Bavaria.

In Poland, authorities said 42 people, many of them homeless, had died over three days after temperatures plunged to -20.

Ukraine reported 27 deaths while six people were killed in accidents in Germany and three in Austria. France has reported at least two deaths of homeless people, and the national power company cut electricity to two million people yesterday saying it was needed to avoid an even bigger blackout amid surging demand.

More flights were cancelled in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain and main highways were blocked across Europe, where some regions had more than 50cm of snow.

The breakdown of the Eurostar service under the Channel, linking London with Paris and Brussels, has symbolised Europe’s suffering. After more than 2,000 people were stuck in the tunnel when five trains broke down last Friday, tens of thousands more have been hit since then.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy summoned the head of the state SNCF rail company, Guillaume Pepy, to demand speedy action. SNCF is a part-owner of Eurostar and responsible for the running of Eurostar trains on French soil.

Eurostar has said trains may run again today but that normal service would not resume before Christmas Day.

The French transport ministry has ordered an investigation into the breakdown, which Eurostar said was caused by trains unable to handle the change from freezing temperatures outside to warm temperatures in the tunnel.

The winter storms caused other disruption across Europe.

Air traffic was again badly hit as temperatures remained glacial: -20C in Sibiu in Romania, where more than 50cm of snow fell, and -7C in Venice.

Seven hundred people spent the night on camp beds at Amsterdam-Schipol Airport as dozens of flights were grounded on Sunday. The Dutch rail network was also hit, with the railway company advising commuters to stay at home.

Heavy snowfall led to more delays and cancellations at Frankfurt and Dusseldorf airports in Germany, where more than 500 flights were cancelled or redirected on Sunday.

Twenty percent of flights out of Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport were cancelled yesterday.


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