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France/Europe - extreme weather

France on high alert as snow and ice sweep south

Article published on the 2010-01-08 Latest update 2010-01-08 11:23 TU

People walk on a snow-covered beach in Deauville, northwest France.Photo: Reuters

People walk on a snow-covered beach in Deauville, northwest France.
Photo: Reuters

Temperatures continue to drop as northern Europe is gripped by its worst winter in decades. France's weather office has placed around half the country on high alert as the heavy snow and ice reached the previously untouched south and east on Friday morning.

Météo France warns that 39 of France's 100 departments are at high risk from extreme cold weather, including 36 in the south and east of the country and three on the north-east coast.

"Snowfall is expected to be heavy, even exceptional," the national weather service warns. Worsened by a strong north wind, "the situation could be critical", particularly in the south-east.

Having previously avoided the worst of the cold weather, the region woke up to as much as 40cm of snow on Friday morning.

Outside the south-east, sub-zero temperatures continue to paralyse France's transport systems.

Eurostar cancelled roughly half of its services to London on Friday due to heavy snowfall in southern Britain. The disruption is likely to continue throughout the weekend, according to the company's website, which is advising passengers to refund or change their tickets.

Within France, the high-speed rail network TGV is running trains at heavily reduced speed, while local services are also suffering disruption.

Highway authorities closed a section of the A9 motorway linking south-west France and north-east Spain overnight due to ice. The autoroute reopened on Friday morning, but remains blocked by traffic jams stretching for seven kilometres.

Flights from Paris's Orly airport are being cancelled, delayed or diverted.

The freezing conditions in France are part of a bitter cold spell affecting the whole of northern Europe.

In Britain, temperatures fell to -18°C overnight, their lowest of the winter so far. The country's National Grid cut off gas to almost 100 major energy firms on Thursday as fears grow for the country's ability to meet its rocketing demand for power.

Ireland has seen some of its coldest temperatures in 50 years, forcing schools to close and airports to cancel flights.

One of the coldest countries is Norway, where temperatures range from -15°C to -40°C. Buses have been unable to travel as their engine oil freezes, while ice has blocked ferries in the country's ports.

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