Bitter cold kills 8, hits air traffic in Europe

Heavy snow and subzero temperatures swept across Europe, killing at least eight homeless people in Poland, closing major airports in Britain and Switzerland, and causing delays to rail and road traffic across the continent.

In addition to Gatwick, one of Britain's busiest airports, and Geneva, Switzerland's second biggest one, Edinburgh airport in Scotland and Lyon-Bron airport in southeastern France were shuttered Wednesday as staff struggled to clear the runways of snow.

In Poland, police eight men died Tuesday night after a bitter cold front hit the country, with temperatures falling to around -20 Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit). Police spokesman Mariusz Sokolowski said the men had all been drinking.

Sokolowski said the men died in different parts of Poland, where many people freeze to death each winter, mostly homeless people and drunks. The coldest temperature registered Tuesday night was in the eastern Polish city of Bialystok, where it was -26 Celsius (-15 Fahrenheit).

Officials at Gatwick said the airport would remain closed until early Thursday morning, stranding about 600 flights that were expected to depart Wednesday. The airport has added extra staff on the ground working "around the clock" to clear the runways. Passengers were advised not to travel to the airport but to check with their airline or visit Gatwick's website for updates.

Geneva airport will be closed until at least 2 p.m. (1300 GMT), said spokesman Bertrand Staempfli.

Zurich, Switzerland's biggest airport, reported delays and cancelations on the day many VIPs, including former U.S. President Bill Clinton and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, were traveling to FIFA's headquarters to push their countries' bids to host the 2018 and 2022 football World Cups.

Airport spokeswoman Sonja Zoechling said officials anticipate heavy snowfall there from 1 p.m. (noon GMT) but expected to keep flights going.

Still, the presence of so many private jets in Zurich on Wednesday means the airport has had to turn down requests for diverted landings, she said.

The European air traffic control authority Eurocontrol also reported severe delays at Berlin's Tegel airport and in northern Spain.

Eurostar trains through the Channel Tunnel were affected. Operators said six trains to and from London were canceled and delays of up to 30 minutes on other services were expected.

Swiss weather agency Meteosuisse forecast more snowfall throughout the day as a low-pressure front centered over western Europe moves slowly eastward.

French weather service Meteo France placed nine regions in the northwest and southeast of France on a weather alert warning of snow and ice, in effect until Thursday morning.

SNCF, France's national railway, said traffic on the main southeast routes has been affected by strong snowfall, but 80 percent of high-speed trains were running.

Some 60 flights had to be canceled at Frankfurt airport, Germany's largest, due to planes that were not able to fly in on Tuesday because of weather problems elsewhere. There were no delays due to the weather on Wednesday, the airport said.

Winter weather caused some 2,000 accidents on German roads on Tuesday, officials said. A new law requiring German drivers to use winter tires took effect Wednesday. Drivers still using summer tires will be fined between €40 ($50) and €80 ($105).

In Poland, police were carrying out patrols to find homeless people and get them into shelters, and appealed to Poles to contact authorities if they saw anyone lying out on benches or the streets. Throughout the country there have also been delays in rail travel.

Poland's bad weather also was blamed for a collision between a tram and a car that killed one person in Szczecin.


Associated Press writer Cassandra Vinograd in London, Vanessa Gera in Warsaw, Poland, Crystal Becerril in Paris and Melissa Eddy in Berlin contributed to this report.