DUBLIN/LONDON (REUTERS, NYTIMES) – Snow storms shut most of Ireland on Friday (March 2) and forced Britain to call in the army to battle some of the worst weather seen in nearly 30 years.
After a blast of Siberian weather dubbed “the beast from the east”, southern Britain and Ireland were battered by Storm Emma which blocked roads, grounded planes and stopped trains.
At least 24,000 homes and businesses in Ireland were left without power, the stock exchange was shut, all schools were closed and transport ground to a halt with all flights cancelled from Dublin airport.
In Britain, a seven-year-old girl was killed in Cornwall after a car crashed into a house in icy conditions, the BBC reported. Dozens of passengers were stranded on trains overnight in southern England.
The army was called in to help rescue hundreds of drivers stuck in the snow and to transport National Health Service workers. Roads were closed, schools shut and flights cancelled across Britain.
“The Armed Forces are assisting emergency services in ensuring essential NHS staff are able to get to work and carry out their work in local communities,” a spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said.
The army is “standing by to help the Police and civil authorities across the UK following heavy snowfall. We are also aware of Armed Forces personnel volunteering in their own time with their own vehicles to help those in need.”
Britain and Ireland had on Thursday issued their most severe red warnings advising people to stay at home as travel was too dangerous. Trains and planes were also cancelled.
Wholesale gas prices soared to their highest in at least 10 years on Thursday and the British power network regular, the National Grid, warned of a deficit in the market and sought to buy gas from market players to unblock bottlenecks.
Britain’s two busiest airports, Heathrow and Gatwick, both said that flights would be cancelled.
Dublin airport ceased all flights and the two carriers that use the airport, Aer Lingus and Ryanair, said they do not plan to fly from the airport at all on Friday.
In Scotland, dozens of people were trapped in their cars on the M80 motorway between Glasgow and Edinburgh on Thursday, with several hundred having been stranded on the road overnight.
Snowstorms also lashed the Swiss city of Geneva, causing the busy airport to suspend all flights for a second consecutive day Friday.
“Owing to weather conditions, Geneva airport is currently closed to air traffic, and will remain so until further notice,” the airport said on its website, urging passengers to contact airlines for information about their flights.
Following days of blizzards, fresh snowfall began in Geneva on Friday morning and was expected to continue until around 3pm local time (10pm Singapore), the weather service said.
Geneva on Thursday was covered in a thick 15-20cm blanket ofsnow, forcing the airport to cancel all flights for several hours.
Zurich airport was less badly affected, with only a handful of flights cancelled.
Switzerland has seen the mercury plummet to records of up to minus 40 deg C in the ongoing blizzard, which has also impacted air, road and train transport around Europe.
The French national weather agency, Meteo France, put large parts of the country on alert for dangerous levels of snow, ice and wind on Thursday. It warned residents to limit travel and movement as heavy snowfall was expected to continue into Friday.
Thousands of homes across the Mediterranean were without power on Thursday, the power provider Enedis said in a statement, as snow fell on areas known for their sun-kissed beaches.
Northern Spain had also become paralysed by snowfall, and a 65-year-old man died after slipping on snow-covered pavement, the Spanish News agency Europa Press reported. Another older man was found dead in the Netherlands after falling through ice while skating, the BBC reported.
More freezing snowy weather was forecast as Storm Emma approaches from Portugal and France, with warnings of more treacherous weather across southern England and Ireland.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said Thursday people should remain indoors until the storm, with winds forecast to reach 100kmh, has passed.
"The risk to life and limb presented by the severe weather conditions should not be underestimated by anyone," he said following a meeting of the National Emergency Coordination Group. "It is not safe to be outside in such conditions."
The cold spell, dubbed the "the Beast from the East", has been caused by a jump in temperatures high over the Arctic which has weakened the jet stream that brings warm air in from the Atlantic to Ireland and Britain.