Wednesday, January 6, 2010

London hit by worst snow in 18 years

Heavy snow disrupted air and rail travel in Europe today, halting flights at Heathrow airport entirely and bringing traffic in London almost to a standstill.

Tens of thousands of commuters were advised not to attempt the journey into work in London, experiencing some of its worst snow in 18 years.

Buses were cancelled altogether and hundreds of schools were closed across the country, leaving children to play and build snowmen in parks and gardens.

In northern France, snow blanketed Paris and surrounding countryside and brought major air, rail and road systems to a halt.

London Mayor Boris Johnson suspended the congestion charge for motorists in the centre of the capital today and appealed to higher powers to end the bad weather. "My message to the heavens is - you have put on a fantastic display of snow power, and I think that is probably quite enough," he told the BBC.

London business leaders said the estimated cost to the British capital alone could be as much as £48 million in lost productivity. All flights in and out of Heathrow were cancelled.

London's three other commercial airports reported severe delays and flight cancellations. Highway authorities warned of hazardous driving conditions in southern and central England.

Dublin, Cork and Belfast airports were also forced to cancel some flights and Gatwick, Stansted and Luton close to London, and London City Airport were badly hit. A Cyprus Airways jet at Heathrow slipped off a taxiway after arriving from Larnaca but came to a safe halt. There were no injuries.

Britain’s Met Office said some parts of the country, including London and other parts of south east England, were covered by up to 20 centimetres of snow this afternoon. It issued a "severe weather" warning for large parts of the country, with weather experts saying south east England was experiencing some of its worst snow since the early 1990s.

The international rail operator Eurostar also reported delays due to snow in Britain, France and Belgium.

Many workers attempted to walk to their offices, trudging through thick snow, but London's Chamber of Commerce said lost productivity could cost the capital dear at a time when the economy is already in recession.

"We know that a one-day closure of the Tube alone can cost the capital up to £48 million with most of London's transport infrastructure down, the costs could be similarly high," spokeswoman Helen Hill said in a statement. "Hopefully things will not grind to a halt completely however, as local staff may be able to get into the office and many others can now work remotely and conduct business online."

So far, this winter has been Britain's coldest in more than a decade and forecasters expect the cold weather to continue for several more days with freezing winds blowing in from Russia.

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