Europe was blasted by more snow and ice as Britons endured their coldest night of the winter, forcing the cancellation of dozens of Eurostar trains linking London and Paris due to the freezing conditions.
In the grip of its worst winter in decades, Britain saw overnight temperatures plunge to minus 22 degrees Celsius at Altnaharra in the Scottish Highlands.
Hundreds of flights were also scrapped leaving more passengers stranded. The conditions sparked concern for energy supplies in Britain, as 27 major companies, which were not named, were ordered to turn off their gas in a bid to avert a crisis.
Britain’s gas network was forced to issue its second alert in three days as the plummeting temperatures saw demand surge. “We’ve got plenty of supplies, the gas storage is about 70 percent full,” Environment Secretary Hilary Benn told GMTV television.
“There’s absolutely no need for any domestic customers to worry,” he added.
Some 97 major firms had their gas turned off Thursday in a bid to see the position ease from critical. It was the first such move since 2003. The beleaguered Eurostar train service linking Britain with France and Belgium cancelled half of its train services from London to Paris due to the low temperatures.
“Because of the current severe weather conditions Eurostar will continue to run a restricted service up to and including Sunday,” the rail operator said.
Air passengers across Europe waited anxiously to see if flights could depart. Pan-European low-cost airline easyJet cancelled 32 flights, largely to and from Britain’s London Gatwick and Liverpool airports.
British Airways cancelled around 60 departures from London Heathrow, while around 90 incoming flights were scrapped. “We are making a number of cancellations today and are experiencing continuing delays due to the knock-on effects of snow and the current icy conditions,” BA said in a statement.
A Gatwick spokeswoman said 18,000 tonnes of snow had been cleared from Britain’s second busiest airport since Tuesday. Thousands of British schools remained closed. “Temperatures will struggle to rise above freezing across most of the country by day, with severe and penetrating frosts at night,” said chief forecaster Richard Young at the Met Office national weather service.
In Norway, temperatures hit minus 42 degrees Celsius in the central village of Folldal. The plunging temperatures forced a rise in electricity demand, sending prices up too.
In Poland, nine people died in the past two days, bringing the total to 139 since the start of November, a police spokesman told AFP. The victims are mainly homeless drunks.
Overnight temperatures dipped to minus 12 degrees Celsius and forecasters predicted more snow and freezing temperatures over the next seven days.
Germany braced for up to 40 centimetres of fresh snow, accompanied by gale force winds. “What is being forecast for the weekend could lead to chaotic traffic conditions and potentially leave large parts of Germany completely paralysed,” the Autoclub Europa warned.
In France, 15,000 people left without electricity in and around the southern city of Arles after power lines collapsed under the weight of snow.
Some 37 districts were put on orange alert with heavy snowfall expected. Around 30 centimetres fell in some parts of the southeast. “The amount of snow expected is significant, exceptional even,” Meteo France warned.
The main highway linking southwestern France with northeastern Spain and Barcelona reopened to cars on Friday but the Pyrenean mountain route remained shut to trucks.
Around 600 trucks waited on the roadside in France for the green light to use the route. Most of mainland Spain was put on alert for fresh snowfalls, strong winds and low temperatures, while heavy rain caused several floods in the southern Andalusia region.
Switzerland’s Gotthard Tunnel, the main pass south towards Italy, was due to reopen later to trucks following heavy snowfall in the Italian-speaking area.