Germany braces for blizzard

BERLIN: Europe faced weekend weather chaos with Germany braced for a blizzard and authorities warned people to stock up on food and drinking water while Britain and France struggled to cope with heavy snow.

Germans were urged to buy enough food and medicines to last for up to four days. The government said all non-essential travel should be avoided.

A flight operated by the carrier Air Berlin skidded off the runway at Nuremberg airport late Friday and remained stuck in the snow disrupting traffic for more than two hours, company spokesman Reto Manitz said.

Traffic on the A5 highway between Germany and France was paralysed Saturday after French police blocked off the border road due to heavy snow, German traffic police said.

"What is being forecast for the weekend could lead to chaotic traffic conditions and potentially leave large parts of Germany completely paralysed," the Autoclub Europa warned.

Britain, suffering its worst winter for three decades, was forced to curb industrial gas usage to save dwindling supplies.

With much of the country already shivering through the worst spell of bad winter weather for more than 30 years, a further blanketing was expected in Britain on Saturday and Sunday.

Forecasters say up to 20 centimetres (seven inches) could settle in the east.

The conditions hit weekend sports games -- five English Premier League football matches were called off and five out of the six Premiership rugby union fixures were also cancelled.

In London, the Serpentine outdoor swimming lake in Hyde Park was closed for the first time in about 140 years amid icy conditions.

Related article:Eurostar disrupted

Air travel was also being disrupted -- at London's Heathrow airport, staff have been working round the clock to keep the runways clear and predicted delays and cancellations.

The Eurostar rail link between Britain and continental Europe said it was operating two-thirds of services due to the bad weather.

Twenty-seven major companies in Britain were ordered to halt using gas Friday in order to maintain overall supplies amid unprecedented levels of demand.

In France, significant snowfalls caused major delays to train services and southern areas experienced electricity cuts.

With more snow forecast, authorities asked airlines to cut a quarter of flights on Saturday at Paris's main Charles de Gaulle airport. Traffic was suspended at Toulouse airport but expected to resume later Saturday.

Meteo France posted weather warnings for several of metropolitan France's 94 departments on Saturday, warning snow and ice may "cause major transportation difficulties and severely disrupt activities".

Several trains were cancelled and many high-speed trains were running late, the national rail operator SNCF said on Saturday.

Ireland, experiencing its worst weather since 1963, was again hit by fresh snowfall in the east which led Dublin airport to suspend all operations.

Education Minister Batt O'Keefe ordered all state primary and secondary schools to remain closed until January 14. Police and the Automobile Association said temperatures were "well below zero" on all routes with dense freezing fog causing additional problems.

Freezing temperatures were reported Saturday in Spain and Portugal, affecting road links. Authorities in Lisbon kept two metro stations overnight to shelter the homeless.

In Norway, temperatures hit minus 42 degrees Celsius in the central village of Folldal.

In Poland, nine people died in a 48-hour period, bringing the total weather-related deaths to 139 since the start of November, a police spokesman said. Most of the victims were homeless people.

Meanwhile Switzerland's 24.5-kilometre (15.3-mile) Gotthard Tunnel, part of a strategic trans-European motorway that runs from Germany to Italy, was due to reopen to trucks following heavy snowfall.