EXTREME WEATHER

Snow leaves thousands of motorists stranded in French Alps

Blizzards affect a broad swathe of central Europe with cars stuck in snow falls in the French Alps and across northern England

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 December, 2014, 4:01pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 December, 2014, 4:01pm

Heavy snowfall in the French Alps left some 15,000 drivers stranded overnight, forcing many to sleep in their cars and prompting officials to open emergency shelters.

The snow and ice hit as a rush of holidaymakers were heading to and leaving from ski resorts in the Savoie region in southeastern France, where authorities set up shelters in at least 12 towns.

The snow, freezing rain and icy conditions caused the death of a 27-year-old man whose car slid into a ravine in the Belledonne mountain range.

France’s Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve in a statement urged drivers “to exercise the utmost caution” and asked those who could delay their trips to do so.

The country declared an orange weather alert – one step under the maximum red alert – in 19 regional departments.

One driver stuck in his car on a major road in the Alps with four passengers, Kevin Clavel, told reporters: “To go 130 kilometres it’s taken us 10 hours.”

France’s meteorological services said they expected more snowfall and “significant re-freezing” and warned of slippery roads.

Elsewhere in France, it was wind and not snow that wrought havoc for holiday travellers.

Storms packing gusts of up to 160 kilometres per hour forced the temporary closure of France’s port of Calais on the English Channel and the suspension of car ferries to and from Britain.

Strong winds also forced the closure of the gardens of the famed chateau of Versailles near Paris.

Snow caused disruption in Britain too, leading to power shortages in more than 100,000 homes and delays at airports.

The heaviest snow was in Leek, western central England, where 11 centimetres fell.

Flights to European destinations took off with delays from Manchester Airport, the third-biggest in Britain.

Forecasters predict that temperatures in Britain could drop as low as minus 10 degrees Celsius next week.