London: Hundreds of flights out of London airports were cancelled Saturday as fresh snow blocked runways, adding to a continent-wide disruption caused by unusually early and heavy snowfalls that now stretch south to most of the Mediterranean coast.
In Italy, at least three people died in snow-related incidents in a space of just 24 hours, news reports said.
The victims included a driver whose truck overturned in a highway mass pile-up, a man who suffered a heart-attack shovelling snow and a homeless man who froze to death. Hundreds of cars were stalled near Florence after a jack-knifed truck blocked a highway.
In Britain, hundreds of motorists spent the night stranded on a motorway in Lancashire after a similar truck accident. In some parts of northwest England more than 20 cm of fresh snow had fallen in the past night.
In London, Gatwick airport shut its runway till dusk and British Airways cancelled all daytime Saturday flights out of Heathrow airport while they waited for the latest snowstorm to pass.
Frankfurt airport, Germany`s biggest, said it was managing to keep its runways clear of ice, but many planes could not take off because airports at several key European destinations, including in Croatia and Pisa in Italy, were shut.
"Our timetables are an utter shambles," said an airport spokesman. By early morning, 100 departures had been cancelled. On Friday, 560 of 1,400 scheduled flights had to be scratched. Thousands of travellers were stranded in Frankfurt and had to stay at hotels.
The snow caused most disruption in countries which had only done low-level preparation for a harsh winter.
While Germany was taking the snow in its stride, with snow ploughs keeping roads clear and most transport running normally, a spokesman for the national association of municipalities warned that budgets for snow clearance might be exhausted if there were another heavy blanked of snow.
"We are doing our best, but if you don`t have the money to spend, you have to cut back snow ploughing," said Gerd Landsberg, chief of the association. "People may just have to get used to driving over hard-packed snow."