Just as Europe thaws, snow storms hit US

Snow storms force hundreds of flight cancellations at US airports.

New York: Snow storms forced hundreds of flight cancellations at US airports on Sunday, creating travel misery for thousands of Christmas travellers just as conditions in Europe began to ease.

As hundreds of passengers trapped by freezing weather in Paris and Brussels returned home after European flights resumed normal service on Christmas Day, it was the turn of those in the United States to shiver and face disruptions.

At the other end of the spectrum, Moscow`s main airport was also closed to international traffic as unseasonably warm weather produced hail storms that wreaked havoc on the roads, downed transmission lines and terrified shoppers.

Across the Atlantic, the northeastern part of the United States was expected to bear the brunt of "dangerous" blizzard conditions and dumps that could approach two feet (24 inches) in the Boston area.

Crews pre-treated roads with salt and prepared emergency vehicles in Washington, which was paralysed for days by record snowfalls last year.

The capital looked set to escape the worst of the conditions this time around, but blizzard warnings were issued for coastal New England, parts of New Jersey and New York city.

The storm was expected to dump a total of between nine and 15 inches (22.8 to 38.1 centimetres) on the Big Apple as powerful wind gusts blow through the city.

Boston was forecast to receive up to 22 inches (55.9 centimetres) of the white stuff by Monday, with wind gusts as high as 45 miles (72 kilometres) per hour by that evening.

Maryland, Massachusetts, Virginia and North Carolina had all declared states of emergency to provide extra funding and resources to respond to the storm.

Heavy snow forced the NFL to postpone an American football game for the second time in three weeks -- this time for the Vikings-Eagles face-off in Philadelphia. The inflatable roof of the Minnesota Vikings`s Metrodome collapsed during the last major storm earlier this month.

The storm was already bringing misery to travellers hoping to return home from their Christmas vacations. Many airlines waived fees for changing flights.

Delta Air Lines said one sixth of its flights around the country, some 850, had been cancelled.

Continental Airlines cancelled 265 departures, primarily from Newark Liberty International Airport, outside New York. It warned, though, that most domestic and international flights would be cancelled through mid-morning Monday due to the disruption at its main hub.

United Airlines had already cancelled 110 flights -- in Boston, Philadelphia and the three main New York airports: Newark, LaGuardia and John F Kennedy International.

"We`re trying to accommodate our travellers. We issued a travel waiver for travel from the 25th to the 27th to give our customers the opportunity to change their plans if possible," United spokesman Mike Trevino said.

"We tried to pre-cancel as many flights as we could so customers wouldn`t have to go to the airport only to find that their flight was cancelled."

AirTran Airways cancelled 81 flights to the northeast cities expected to be hardest hit, including New York, Boston and Philadelphia.

Southwest Airlines also cancelled flights, mainly to and from Dulles International Airport and Baltimore Washington International Airport outside Washington, as well as Newark.

"We know many people are travelling for the holidays and we want everyone to be extremely cautious," North Carolina Emergency Management director Doug Hoell told a local television station.

"Anyone who is thinking of driving during the next few days, should pay careful attention to the weather and traffic forecasts before heading out."

Ice and snow snarled road traffic in several southeastern states, including Georgia`s northern mountains. North Carolina`s department of transportation reported interstate highways partially covered with snow and ice.

Americans in the deep south were treated to a very rare white Christmas on Saturday.

Light to moderate snow blanketed communities in the southern Gulf states of Alabama and Mississippi, meteorologists said, while Atlanta, Georgia enjoyed its first white Christmas in 128 years.

Snowfalls were expected to break records in the normally mild south, where at least the children were pleasantly surprised by the winter weather.

Bureau Report

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