Late-Winter Snowstorm Batters Northwest Europe

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A heavy late-winter snowstorm battered northwestern Europe on Tuesday, causing massive disruptions including the closure of Frankfurt airport and the suspension of trains between Paris and London.

The unseasonable snowfall -- coming only eight days before the official start of spring -- also knocked out power to thousands of people in France and left hundreds of motorists stranded in their cars.

France was worst affected but Germany, Britain, Belgium and The Netherlands also reported major disruptions.

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Frankfurt airport, Europe's third-busiest hub, announced it had been forced to close due to heavy snow, with more than 200 flights scrapped by late morning. An airport spokesman was unable to say when it would be able to re-open.

The Eurostar high-speed train between London and Paris was also suspended after heavy snowfall on the tracks in northern France and Belgium. Eurostar said it expected services to resume on Wednesday.

Nearly a third of France's regions were on alert and the government activated a ministerial crisis group.

Weather service Meteo France described the snowfall as "remarkable for the season" and warned that alerts would probably remain in place until at least Wednesday.

More than 2,000 people were stranded in their cars overnight as heavy snow paralyzed roads in Normandy and Brittany, with many spending the night in emergency shelters.

"There are cars in front, there are cars behind. We're in a film, it's like the end of the world," trapped driver Michel told France Bleu radio from the Manche region.

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About 80,000 homes in the north and northwest of France were without power, following snowfalls of up to 60 centimeters (24 inches).

The snow caused major disruptions as it moved into Paris, with authorities urging the seven million commuters who use public transport every day to stay home. Several major roads around the capital were closed.

The city's two main airports, Charles de Gaulle and Orly, said they had cancelled up to a quarter of flights and the nearby Beauvais airport, serving mainly low-cost airlines, cancelled all flights.

At Orly, a Tunisair flight carrying 140 people from Djerba skidded off the runway on landing but no one was injured, an airport source said.

A traffic accident near Lille injured 14 people and a 58-year-old homeless man was found dead, presumably from the cold, outside a building in the town of Saint-Brieuc in Brittany.

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Hundreds were also stuck in their cars overnight in Britain, some for more than 10 hours as ice, snow and freezing winds descended on southeastern England.

Police, rescue services, snow ploughs and gritting lorries battled to help the motorists in temperatures as low as -3 degrees Celsius (26 degrees Fahrenheit), with some areas under 10 centimetres (four inches) of snow.

Singer Cheryl Baker, formerly of the band Bucks Fizz which won the 1981 Eurovision with the song "Making Your Mind Up", was among those caught up in the chaos as she tried to reach Brighton to pick up her children.

"We (took) 10 hours to do a one-hour journey," she told ITV. "The traffic and the weather have just been atrocious and none of the roads had been gritted."

Public transport in Berlin was affected with several regional trains cancelled or severely delayed. There were also a spate of crashes on icy German roads with several people seriously hurt and one death, according to police.

In Belgium, the snowstorms caused massive traffic disruptions, with vehicles backed up on 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) of freeways due to snowdrifts and ice.

Buses and trains were cancelled or delayed in Brussels and other towns and the high-speed Thalys service linking Paris and Brussels was suspended.

Long traffic jams because of snow and ice also snaked along motorways in the southern Netherlands, hampering travel to and from Belgium after an unseasonal fall of more than 10 centimeters (four inches) of snow overnight.

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