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Heavy snowstorm pounds Germany, upends travel

·3 min read

BERLIN (AP) — A snowstorm and strong winds pounded northern and western Germany on Sunday, forcing trains to cancel trips and leading to hundreds of vehicle crashes. Police said 28 people were injured on icy roads.

The German Weather Service DWD urged people to stay at home and authorities brought homeless people into warm shelters amid the sub-freezing temperatures.

National train operator Deutsche Bahn said main train routes between Hamburg and Hannover, Berlin and the west were canceled as snowdrifts piled up on the tracks and power lines. Some train connections in the east were also canceled, though most of the snow came down in the northwest.

Police in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia said early Sunday they had counted 222 road crashes because of the bad weather conditions since Saturday afternoon. They said two people among the 28 were severely injured.

In the Muensterland region and eastern Westphalia, authorities banned trucks from driving on highways until 8 p.m. on Sunday, while in Hesse state, 55 trucks got stuck in the snow trying to drive up a rising stretch of a highway near Knuellwald in the direction of Kassel and elsewhere.

The Bundesliga soccer game between Arminia Bielefeld and Werder Bremen was called off hours before kickoff Sunday because of the snowstorm.

“Due to the heavy and prolonged snowfall combined with frost, it’s not guaranteed that the game can be carried out properly,” the German soccer league said in statement. “A new date for the game will be announced shortly.”

In the western city of Muenster, among the hardest hit places, there was so much snow on the streets that ambulances could no longer drive and all public transportation was shut down. More than 30 centimeters (almost 12 inches) of snow had fallen, piling up to a meter (over three feet) in some parts, and more snow was expected to fall on Sunday.

In Wuppertal, in western Germany, firefighters had to rescue six passengers out of the city's famous elevated railway after a train stopped moving due to the icy conditions. They had to climb up on ladders to reach the people on the train and help them down to the ground, dpa reported.

In the western town of Hagen, a circus tent collapsed under the weight of the snow, but firefighters succeeded in rescuing all 13 animals buried by the tent. Seven horses, two camels, two goats and two lamas were found underneath the tent and the snow, but none of the animals were injured, officials said.

Also in Hagen, city authorities walked through the streets at night waking up homeless people sleeping outside and taking them to shelters, the German news agency dpa reported. In Berlin, the capital's biggest shelter, a tent city on the outskirts, was cleared early Saturday to make sure people don't freeze to death in sub-freezing temperatures.

While the west of the country was freezing, southern Germany experienced balmy, spring-like temperatures.

The unusual weather and temperature divide was caused by a polar vortex pushing icy air from the Arctic toward northern Germany just as a low pressure front brings wet, warm weather from the southwest, the DWD said.

In the Netherlands, snow blanketed much of the country, forcing the government to cancel a weekly crisis meeting to discuss the coronavirus pandemic. Train services were suspended and Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport warned passengers of possible flight cancellations.

National broadcaster NOS showed images of an early morning snowball fight involving residents and police on Amsterdam’s central Dam Square.

The Dutch meteorological office KNMI raised its weather warning to code red for the whole country.

___

Ciaran Fahey in Berlin, and Mike Corder in Wekerom, Netherlands, contributed to this report.