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Thousands blocked on icy roads as France recovers from surprise snowfall

Reuters/Pascal Rossignol

Eurostar and Thalys train services between Paris and London and Brussels resumed on Wednesday as the heavy snow that fell Tuesday began to melt. But thousands of motorists spent the night in their vehicles and ice left roads dangerous, as Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault warned of disruption for a further 48 hours.

High-speed links to London and Brussels stopped on Tuesday as unusually heavy snowfall and icy winds struck northern France and much of the rest of northern Europe.

Rail passengers were stranded, particularly in Normandy, and the SNCF rail company said that it had put up 1,000 people in hotels near stations and couchette sleeper trains.

Interactive map of France

Lines from Paris to Amiens, Rouen and Caen were running again Wednesday morning, the SNCF said, but there was still disruption to Paris regional rail networks and bus services, although they were reported to be recovering as the day went on.

Commuters in the Paris region seemed to have taken the government’s advice and stayed at home on Wednesday morning, although school holidays meant that many were not working anyway.

Despite thick ice on many roads there were fewer traffic jams than usual, traffic monitors reported.

The snow headed south overnight, cutting off electricity to 30,000 homes in the south-west on top of the 30,000 in Normandy on the Channel coast and 4,000 in Brittany in the north-west. By midday power had been restored to all but 19,800 in the south-west, officials said.

In other developments:

  • About 2,500 cars and lorries were lined up on the A1 motorway between Paris and Lille, coffee and croissants were served to many during the morning, traffic began moving again late in the morning;
  • The A2, A26 and A29 motorways and the RN13 between Caen and Cherbourg were also blocked on Wednesday morning, in some cases by lorries left abandoned on the road by their drivers;
  • Helicopters were sent out to spot stranded motorists on the roads;
  • Flights to and from Lille-Lesquin and Beauvais airports resumed;
  • Production stopped at PSA Peugeot-Citroën’s factory at Sochaux, eastern France, because the supply of gearboxes coming from Valenciennes in the north had run out;
  • A dozen soldiers, part of a group of 27 sent to help restore the power supply on the Channel coast, were set to work clearing access to the nuclear waste plant at La Hague, which houses the largest amount of radioactive matter in Europe.

The bad weather has blown up a political row with the government forced to defend its handling of the weather on Wednesday.

Accusing the Socialist leadership of Paris and the Ile de France transport network, Stif, of “culpable inertia” he Paris region leader of the right-wing UMP, Valérie Pécresse, demanded an inquiry into the Stif’s response to the “chaos”.

“Everything that could have been predicted was predicted,” responded Transport Minister Frédéric Cuvillier, while Environment Minister Delphine Batho insisted that it was the government that had mobilised a crisis cell and told the weather service to restore a state of alert in several areas on Wednesday.

UMP member and former transport minister Dominque Bussereau was more temperate than Pecresse, declaring that there was “good and not so good” in the response and said there would be no demand for a parliamentary inquiry.

“I’ve experienced Roissy [airport] blocked, I’ve experiences blocked motorways. The transport isn’t going to go out with a shovel and unblock every road himself,” he commented.