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Inability to clear snow and ice strands thousands in London

LONDON — The Christmas travel season turned angry and chaotic Monday as British officials struggled to clear snow and ice that paralyzed rail and air links and spawned cancellations and delays stranding thousands around the world.

More than 48 hours after Britain's latest snowfall, some furious passengers with boarding passes for Monday flights were not even allowed into London's Heathrow Airport. Inside, piles of garbage grew and some people slept on terminal floors.

Other travelers waited in the cold for up to six hours to get inside London's St. Pancras train station, where they had to wait even longer for Eurostar trains to mainland Europe.

Chagrined British officials promised an inquiry into the failure to clear the remnants of a storm that dumped 5 inches over parts of England on Saturday morning. Other European airports rebounded from weekend snowfall and resumed close to normal flight schedules by Monday.

"It can't be beyond the wit of man surely to find the shovels, the diggers, the snowplows or whatever it takes to clear the snow out from under the planes, to get the planes moving and to have more than one runway going," London Mayor Boris Johnson said as British Airways canceled its Monday short-haul schedule from Heathrow.

Heathrow operator BAA offered little hope of relief, saying a maximum one-third of scheduled flights would be allowed to take off and land at Heathrow until at least 6 a.m. (1 a.m. EST) Wednesday.

The British government approved night-flight operations at Heathrow in an effort to remove the backlog, but officials warned it may take until after Christmas to do so — and longer if more snow falls.

At Heathrow's sprawling Terminal 5 on Monday, tired and disgruntled passengers faced lengthy waits without much information as piles of garbage grew throughout the complex.

"The whole situation is horrible," said teenager Sophiya Bolkova, as she clutched her ticket home to Moscow after a delay of three days. "We are very angry. People were just mean, rude, sleeping on the floor, babies sleeping on the floor, no information, no help, no money for hotels."

California hit

A powerful storm system with drenching rain, heavy snow and high winds lashed California on Monday, but forecasters warned the worst was yet to come. Even stronger storms were bearing down on the state and threatened to dump 5 to 10 inches of rain during the next two days. Virtually the entire state was affected.

Inability to clear snow and ice strands thousands in London 12/20/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 1:43pm]
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