Heavy snow hits French commuters

A woman uses an umbrella to protect herself from falling snow near the Eiffel Tower in Paris....
A woman uses an umbrella to protect herself from falling snow near the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Photo Reuters
Heavy snowfall across northern France has caused widespread travel disruption, with hundreds of motorists spending the night in their cars and around 700 travellers sleeping in two Paris train stations.

French authorities set up makeshift shelters at roadsides across the Paris region, near Orly airport to the south of the capital and at the Austerlitz and Montparnasse stations in the city. In all, around 1,500 people had to be sheltered between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning (local time).

Some flights were cancelled at Orly, according to the airport's travel information.

Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said authorities had worked to prevent travel chaos as much as possible but that grit on roads was not effective with heavy dumpings of snow.

"We're facing an exceptional episode," he told RTL radio, warding off calls to overhaul France's transport network.

"We're not going to adapt our infrastructure for an exceptional occurrence, for two big snowfalls that happen every four or five years."

At least 15 cm of snow fell around the capital's outlying suburbs, the biggest dump since 2013, the government said.

For children and the more adventurous, the weather was a godsend: some carted skis to the top of Montmartre, the steep hill in northern Paris where the Sacre Coeur is located, while impromptu snowball fights erupted on the way to schools.

But mostly it caused disruption for tourists and commuters.

The Eiffel Tower was shut to visitors on Tuesday afternoon, ahead of the heaviest snowfall, and Parisians were braced for several more days of snowstorms and freezing temperatures, with forecasts of -7 degrees centigrade on Thursday night.

Regional train services were interrupted, leaving many commuters outside Paris stranded, while inner-city bus services were cancelled and some metro lines heavily disrupted.

In L'Etang-la-Ville, a village 20 km west of Paris, people arrived at the station to find the tracks buried under snow and scant information on whether there would be any services.

"They're saying the trains are running at a reduced speed. But they're lying, there are no trains," said IT technician Jean-Michel Blanchet, blaming weak investment in regional rail networks for a lack of snow-clearing equipment. 

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