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Thousands stranded on French roads as snow threatens icy spring

Reuters/Pascal Rossignol

At least one homeless person died and thousands of motorists were stranded as unseasonal snow hit northern France Tuesday. The big chill also hit Britain Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands causing chaos on the roads and stranding rail and air passengers just 10 days before the official start of spring.

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A 58-year-old homeless man, known locally as Jean-François, was found dead in the street in the Brittany town of Saint-Brieuc early Tuesday morning.

He appeared to have died from the cold, local officials said.

A 35-year-old person was found dead in the street at about the same time in the Normandy town of Port en Bessin but it was unclear whether the death was because of the cold.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault activated a crisis cell that coordinates different ministries’ efforts to tackle the effects of the snow and ice.

With snowfall “remarkable for the season, as much for its quantity as for its length”, according to weather forecasters, the rail network advised residents of the Ile de France region surrounding Paris not to go to the capital, predicting major disruption of trains into the city.

Seven million people use public transport every day in the Paris region.

There was disruption across northern France:

  • In Normandy, where snow was 60cm thick in some areas, over 1,000 vehicles were stranded on motorways overnight with some of the drivers and passengers given shelter in public buildings;
  • Electricity was cut off to 43,500 households in Normandy and 22,500 in Brittany;
  • Two trains with a total of 600 passengers were halted on Monday evening, while 230 others were put up in a sleeper train in the station at Caen;
  • Flights to Beauvais, the airport near Paris used by low-coast airlines, and Lille in the north-west have been cancelled, about a quarter of flights in and out of Paris’s Charles De Gaulle and Orly were expected to be scrapped;
  • TGV trains in and out of Lille-Lesquin were cancelled, as was the Thalys service between Paris and Brussels;
  • Fourteen people, including six firefighters, were injured in a traffic accident on the A27 near Lille on Monday night;
  • The A29, A16, A1 and A28 motorways in the Somme department were unusable on Tuesday morning, according to officials.

Elsewhere in Europe:

  • In Belgium there 1,600 kilometres of traffic jams as high winds caused snowdrifts, schools were closed and many people worked from home;
  • In Germany 161 flights were cancelled at Frankfurt airport, public transport in Berlin was disrupted, one person was killed and several other injured in road accidents due to ice;
  • The Netherlands experienced 10cm of snowfall overnight, causing massive traffic jams in the south of the country;
  • In Britain there was traffic disruption and several road accidents as icy winds originating in Siberia drove down the thermometer.
     

The snow is expected to ease up later Tuesday but may return later in the week.

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