Citizens in Rome awoke to about 10 centimeters (4 inches) of snow Saturday, a rare sight in Italy's capital. The cold weather has stricken a ferry, halted most public transport and forced the Pope to cancel an audience.
Europe's prolonged spell of wintery weather reached the Italian capital Rome Saturday, heavily disrupting the transport network, forcing the emergency evacuation of a stricken ferry and causing Pope Benedict XVI to cancel a planned audience.
More than 300 people, including 262 passengers, were rescued from the ferry "Sharden" shortly after it set off from the port of Civitavecchia in a heavy snow storm. The ship hit a breakwater, which ripped a 25-meter hole in the side of the vessel. The ship's evacuation went smoothly, with no deaths or injuries reported. Many of the Sardinia-bound passengers boarded other ships and waited for hours to set sail for their destination.
In the Italian capital Rome, residents woke up to 10 centimeters (4 inches) of snow - the heaviest snowfall in 27 years. The severe weather disrupted public transport in the capital, the Italian highway network and some airports and flight schedules.
Residents and authorities in the city of Rome, better known for warm sunshine and mild winters, are not well prepared for such conditions. Five people were thought to have died in the cold, with authorities rescuing hundreds from a stranded train and from trapped cars.
In Vatican City, the cold impacted on Saturday's schedule, forcing Pope Benedict XVI to call off a planned audience with some 7,000 members the youth peace group Sermig, as the guests were unable to travel to the appointment.
According to his personal secretary Georg Gänswein, speaking to Radio Vatican on Saturday, the German-born Pope had received the snowy weather "like a greeting from his wintery Bavarian home."
Cold across the continent
The freezing weather has hung over much of Europe for days, with some of the frostiest temperatures recorded in Central and Eastern Europe. Temperatures sank to minus 27 degrees Celsius (-16.6 Fahrenheit) in north-eastern Poland, where 45 people have died in the cold. Four further victims were found in Romania on Saturday, bringing the death toll there to 28.
The cold snap is thought to have killed people in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Bulgaria, Serbia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, France, Austria and Greece.
Trains connecting Germany and Belgium were halted due to the harsh conditions overnight, with connections between Brussels and Amsterdam also affected.
Airports around Europe are fighting to keep their flights running
In the capital of the Netherlands, Amsterdam-Schipol airport reported "dozens of delays and cancellations, while airports in the UK were bracing themselves for even more disruption.
London Heathrow, Europe's busiest airport in terms of passenger numbers, cancelled 30 percent of its planned Sunday services as it prepared for heavy snowfall and fog. As much as 15 centimeters of snow is expected to fall in the UK overnight.
"A further revised schedule with additional cancellations may be made on a rolling basis," Heathrow operator BAA said. "We expect the percentage of passengers who are able to fly to be higher than 70 percent as airlines will transfer people between flights."
London Gatwick, meanwhile, announced no such revisions, but advised passengers to check with their airlines and the airport closer to flight time.
msh/sb (dpa, KNA, Reuters)