UPDATE: Chaos as snow hits north

Snow has blanketed the north of France - Screengrab: FranceTV Info

Massive disruption as heavy snowfall paralyses rail and RATP services, leaves hundreds of motorists stranded and cuts power to thousands

RESIDENTS in Calvados and Manche have been warned to stay home if at all possible as Météo France put the two departments on an unprecedented red alert for snow and black ice.

Heavy snowfalls and strong winds have all but cut off the north of France, with 27 departments on orange alert, all TGV services out of Paris Nord suspended until tomorrow and Eurotunnel traffic disrupted, other rail and RATP services paralysed, motorways blocked and Paris flights reduced by a quarter.

Electricity supplies to 80,000 houses have been cut off as snow brought down power lines – affecting around 200,000 people, with 52,00 houses in Normandy, 24,500 in Brittany, 3,500 in Picardy and 1,800 in Nord-Pas-de-Calais.

Roofs in Carentan, Saint-Lô, Valognes and Coutances have also collapsed under the weight of snow and several hypermarkets have closed as a precaution.

In Paris, commuters were already on station platforms this morning as rail authorities issued a plea for them to avoid the capital if possible as rail traffic was badly affected on all lines.

Millions of people travel into the city every day and the heavily-used RER A and B lines were hit by severe delays and many cancellations were affecting the RER C and D. Bus and tram services were also severely hit.

Fierce winds are causing major problems by causing snow drifts of up to 1.5m deep and have been blamed for a spate of accidents and leaving hundreds of motorists stranded in their vehicles.

School buses have been cancelled in the majority of the areas affected by the alerts. These are: the regions of Basse-Normandie, Haute-Normandie, Ile-de-France, Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardie plus the departments of Ardennes, Côtes-d'Armor, Eure-et-Loir, Finistère, Ille-et-Vilaine, Marne, Mayenne Meurthe-et-Moselle, Meuse, Moselle and Sarthe. And in Nord-Pas-de-Calais schools have been closed.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has also called a meeting of the government’s crisis committee to coordinate efforts to get on top of the situation.

Roads were particularly hard hit with many accidents – the worst where 14 people were injured, including six firefighters, on the A27 motorway near Lille. Rescue crews were dealing with a first accident when another vehicle hit a drift and slid out of control into them.

The prefecture in Calvados said up to 600 people had had to be given shelter overnight in 17 community halls and 27km of the dual-carriageway RN13 was closed to all traffic between Caen and Bayeux.

Neighbouring Manche was hit by snow up to 1.5metres deep with an average of 60cm. It closed its roads to HGV vehicles and the port of Cherbourg was all but cut off with nearly 600 stranded motorists spending the night in community halls. About 50 more were stuck in their vehicles for around 15 hours.

At Cherbourg a ferry run by Irish Ferries from Rosslare has been standing offshore with 500 passengers for nearly 24 hours as it could not dock due to high winds and rough seas.
Screengrab: FranceTV Info

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