Hundreds of travellers were stranded over the weekend at airports and railway stations and stuck on snow-bound motorways with their holiday plans in ruins as bad weather conditions — freezing temperatures and record levels of snowfall — led to severe disruption of normal life across Europe.
In Britain, which is in the grip of one of the coldest winters since records began, Heathrow, Gatwick and Belfast International were among the many airports forced to shut down because of heavy snow resulting in cancellation or long delays.
“Over three centimetres of snow has now accumulated on the runway and it is now unsafe to operate aircraft,” a spokesman of Gatwick airport said.
Airports in several other European countries including Germany and France were also facing serious disruption.
Nearly a quarter of all train services in Britain were reported to be either running late or cancelled.
Families caught up in the unprecedented chaos complained of lack of proper information.
“We sat on the tarmac with our two small children for four hours with no food before being told that we would not fly because the queue for de-icing was too long,” one woman stranded at Heathrow airport told the BBC.
Motorways saw long tailbacks with cars and lorries blocked by snow going nowhere. People were being advised not to venture out unless absolutely essential as emergency services struggled to cope with desperate calls for help.
“We are asking the public to really seriously consider whether they do need to come out in these conditions, and if they do come out in these conditions, they really must take extra care,” an official of the Highways Agency said.
Northern Ireland and Scotland were the worst-affected with some remote areas running out of essential supplies.