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Fresh Snow Contributes To European Travel Delays


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

Much of Europe is in the deep freeze. Fresh snow in Germany has closed the country's biggest airport at Frankfurt. And in Great Britain thousands of travelers are stranded, air travel has come to a virtual standstill. London's Heathrow Airport is jammed with frustrated passengers who have no place to go because only a limited number of flights are taking off. NPR's Philip Reeves joins us now from London to talk more about what's happening.

Good morning, Phil.

PHILIP REEVES: Good morning.

WERTHEIMER: So, Phil, is anybody going anywhere in Europe today?

REEVES: Yes, some people are able to get around. You know, there are some services that are functioning in the transport area. But many, a multitude of people angry and frustrated people are stranded. They're trying to get to their destination before the holidays and they're beginning to realize that they're not going to make it.

A lot of people have spent the night at Heathrow, for example, and in Frankfurt in Germany - Germany's main airport, in fact - have spent the night in the terminal yet again. And in Frankfurt they brought in some brightly dressed clowns to entertain the passengers. I haven't heard that they've attempted this at Heathrow. If they were to do so I suspect it wouldn't work, because people there are very angry and very frustrated now.

WERTHEIMER: Now, London had several inches of snow over the weekend, but could you explain why that is still causing problems, why the country's not dug out by today?

REEVES: Well, these are exceptional circumstances. It's a sustained period of extremely cold weather. Temperatures are far lower than Britain usually experiences. Overnight it was 17 below. And that's by no means the lowest temperature recorded over the last few days. These are numbers you get in Siberia. You don't get them in Britain usually. They've had more snow here than they've had for three decades.

And if you can just picture one aircraft stand at Heathrow, authorities there say they had 30 tons of snow to clear just from that immediate area. And that's for every stand. And they are just woefully ill-equipped to deal with this kind of thing.

WERTHEIMER: Philip, the nation's capital here in Washington is another city that was woefully ill-prepared for snow. We had one terrible storm and all of a sudden found some money for lots of snow plows. Do you think that London is going to try to beef up its snow removal?

REEVES: Well, the authorities are talking about needing to review the whole thing and for the private operators who run the airports to invest in equipment that can deal with this sort of thing. I mean, there's been so much frustration. People sleeping on mats and under foil blankets at the terminal. It just doesn't look good. And, of course, for the people involved, horrible.

But there was one unusual story of someone who managed to escape these circumstances. A 15-year-old German boy stranded at Heathrow over the weekend, his parents, who are in Dusseldorf, Germany, grew fed up about the whole thing, so they sent a taxi to pick him up. I wish I had parents like that.

WERTHEIMER: What about the city itself? Have you been able to get out and about? Is the subway running? Are buses running?

REEVES: Well, I cycle in the city. And last night I cycled home well after dark with these enormous fat snowflakes drifting down, knowing that it would cause more chaos. And sure enough Gatwick Airport, London's other airport, closed pretty much around that time.

But what's been fascinating, I live in the flight path for Heathrow and at this time of day usually you would be hearing in the background aircraft after aircraft after aircraft coming in. Today, and this has been true of the last few days, it's totally silent - very eerie. But yet people are getting around London. I mean, the roads are open and you can cycle and there are taxis and buses.

WERTHEIMER: What's the prognosis?

REEVES: Well, they're talking in terms of the cold weather continuing in this part of Europe for the next few days, possibly through Christmas. No sign of a thaw really until the 26th, they're saying, and possibly more snow.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Philip Reeves in London. Good luck to you.

REEVES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Philip Reeves
Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.
As NPR's senior national correspondent, Linda Wertheimer travels the country and the globe for NPR News, bringing her unique insights and wealth of experience to bear on the day's top news stories.