European economy gets hit by massive snowfall (Second Lead)

Monday, December 20, 2010

LONDON - Holiday plans of thousands of people have been thrown into disarray after many places across Europe were severely affected by heavy snowfall, even as the freezing winter has left a deep impact on the region’s economy.

Heavy snow and sub-zero temperatures have cost Europe’s aviation and retail industries many millions in lost revenue during one of the most crucial weekends of the year.

Millions of workers, travellers and shoppers were expected to stay at home in the run-up to Christmas rather than brave the icy conditions.

The Royal Sun Alliance has put the cost of the weather to the British economy at one billion pounds per day, a sum that is thought to be hitting retailers, restaurants and bars the hardest, according to The Independent.

An economist at IHS Global Insight said many firms could now consider working between Christmas and the New Year to make up for lost business.

Travellers wanting to fly to Britain have been advised not to plan holidays now by many airlines which said they could not guarantee they would be able to land due to the massive snowfall.

Snow storms have closed the main airports in the British capital - including Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, leading to cancellation of scores of flights, according to BBC.

Frankfurt airport, Germany’s biggest, was open but hundreds of flights were cancelled Sunday because of problems elsewhere, leaving the airport halls packed with flight guests.

Heavy snow in northern France has led to air and train disruptions, with many flights cancelled at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports.

The Tuscany region of northern Italy remains under heavy snow, and Florence airport was closed.

Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport was open, but about 30 flights were cancelled Sunday because other airports across the region were closed.

The British Met Office has warned of more heavy snow in Yorkshire, northeast England and eastern Scotland, advising “essential travel” only in the Edinburgh area.

Icy roads have affected much of the rest of Britain and there has been some rail disruption.

Temperatures struggled to get above minus 5 degrees Celsius overnight and BBC reported there were lows of minus 19 degrees Celsius in parts of Worcestershire and Shropshire.

With France also suffering severe weather, Eurostar said it had cancelled some trains and switched to an emergency timetable, with last-minute cancellations possible.

Road drivers were facing queues of up to eight hours and more than 80 cars were abandoned Saturday night in Oxfordshire.

British Airways said several thousands of its stranded passengers were being put up in hotels but when asked if the company was confident of getting everyone to their festive destinations, a spokeswoman said: “We are in the hands of the weather.”

Air New Zealand said Monday two flights left for London Sunday night, but warned that if weather conditions do not improve, passengers may be forced to get down at Hong Kong or Los Angeles, according to Xinhua.

Australian airline Qantas said it was awaiting an update from Heathrow before deciding whether its scheduled flights for London will leave Australia Monday.

Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific was anticipating that at least three flights would be able to leave for London. However, passengers have been advised to check with their airline.

Many airlines said they will meet the costs for passengers who were unexpectedly stranded in transit, but those who choose to fly to London now will have to meet their own accommodation costs if they are stranded.

Sue Kerslake, a British passenger, spent the night on a terminal at the Heathrow with her three young grandchildren after their Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong was cancelled.

“There were thousands of people in departures overnight and it got quite intense at times. The bars were open and some people were drinking and got quite nasty,” she said.

Stuart Gash, who had been due to fly to New York for a Caribbean cruise with his wife and two children, said the airports seemed unable to cope at the first sign of snow.

“There was no more than two inches of snow and yet the runway is totally covered. Why aren’t they ploughing it, why aren’t they gritting it, why aren’t they salting it,” he wondered.

The BAA Limited - erstwhile British Airports Authority - said it had invested more than six million pounds last year in technology to move snow and de-ice runways and that staff had worked through the night.

“There comes a point where you cannot do any more; when you’re moving snow and it’s freezing behind,” said Andrew Teacher, a BAA official.

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