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Published: Thursday, 12/9/2010

Snow causes European travel chaos

PARIS — Travelers in Paris and Frankfurt slept at the airport after snow and ice caused travel chaos. Pop singer Shakira canceled a concert in Germany, while the French prime minister missed a gala at Moscow's Bolshoi Theater.

Many European commuters suffered through traffic jams on slushy streets Thursday, and Scotland even called in the army to clear the snow. Flights out of Paris and Frankfurt were still delayed after bad weather forced the temporary closing of airports a day earlier.

Paris, a city of frequent rain, is unprepared for snow. Amid Wednesday's snowfall of 10 centimeters (4 inches), bus service was shut down, traffic backed up, tourists were ushered out the Eiffel Tower and Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport was forced to close for an hour and a half.

Shakira canceled a Wednesday night concert in Frankfurt because she couldn't take off from Paris, German news agency DAPD reported.

Concert organizers did not hear of the problem until an hour before the concert, when they had to tell 11,000 fans already gathered in the concert arena to head home. A spokesman for the concert organizers told DAPD that a new date for early 2011 will be set soon.

Meanwhile, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon missed a special gala by Russian and French dancers at the Bolshoi because of delays leaving France. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin — no stranger to snow — offered to have the Bolshoi re-run the event in Fillon's honor, the RIA-Novosti news agency said.

On Thursday, delays of up to an hour persisted at Charles de Gaulle. Some passengers huddled under blankets after a long night sleeping at the airport.

“The airport last night was giving out towels, mattresses to sleep on, water, and they were coming around constantly to see if everything was OK,” said Lynne Seavor, whose flight home to Britain's East Midlands Airport was delayed by 24 hours.

The sun was out Thursday in Paris, melting snow off roofs. Sidewalks were slick, and traffic was still badly disrupted.

The Eiffel Tower's first floor reopened to tourists, a day after it was entirely shut down. Officials say they can't use salt there because it could cause damage to the monument.

A combination of snow, rain and temperatures hovering right around the freezing point caused traffic chaos in Germany, with hundreds of accidents reported nationwide and scores of miles-long (kilometers-long) traffic jams. One person died in a crash in Rhineland-Palatinate, along the French border.

Airport officials said at least 650 flights were canceled in Germany, including 200 in Berlin and 450 at Frankfurt, whose airport was shut down for four hours overnight.

Air traffic control agency Eurocontrol said Berlin's Schoenefeld airport will be closed for incoming flights until 8 a.m. (0700GMT) on Friday as a result of a shortage of de-icing fluid.

Clariant, a Swiss specialty chemicals company that is one of Europe's top makers of the liquid, said the unexpectedly quick onset of wintry conditions had caused shortages across the continent.

“Winter has set in early and simultaneously across Europe. We even got de-icing requests from Greece today,” Clariant spokesman Ulrich Nies said.

He said the company's only European production plant for the fluid in southern Germany is operating around the clock — instead of during business hours on regular days — to combat the shortages.

Ralf Kunkel, a Berlin airport spokesman, said the shortage of de-icing fluid was “unique” in the history of the city's airports, “and it's absolutely annoying.”

Scotland, meanwhile, called in the army Thursday to help clear snow and ice after the heaviest snowfall since 1963 paralyzed the country's capital.

Edinburgh City Council held talks with the Ministry of Defense and the Scottish government to secure help digging out the capital after up to 30 inches (75 centimeters) of snow in parts of the city left some of its most vulnerable residents unable to leave their homes.

Soldiers are to aid residents in the hardest hit parts of Edinburgh and clear sensitive locations, such as hospitals and doctors' offices.

The army will also work to remove snow and ice from roads. Parts of the country have not seen a positive temperature reading for nearly two weeks.



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