Ten horror stories from France’s winter whiteout

After heavy snow and freezing temperatures caused chaos across northern France over the last three days, some horror stories are beginning to emerge about what people have been through. Here are ten of the worst.

Ten horror stories from France's winter whiteout
Cars trapped under several feet of snow on a road near Caen in Normandy. Photo:Charly Triballeau/AFP

Bus stop: Hundreds were trapped on public transport overnight, including Jean-René who was stuck on a bus in the Somme area of France for 13 hours.  His bus was part of a convoy of three coaches heading to Beauvais airport, with 15 young children and a 7-month-old baby on board. “We had nothing to eat or drink,” he told French daily 20 Minutes. With temperatures at -10C the service station 10km away was out of reach. And with the bus toilets out of service the passengers were forced to step outside into the deep snow to relieve themselves.

All at sea: There’s probably nowhere worse to be stuck during stormy weather than a boat. Around 500 passengers on an Irish Ferries ship had to spend an extra night on board after it was unable to dock at the port of Cherbourg. It had been due to arrive on Monday afternoon but the ferry did not dock until 2.35pm on Tuesday. And even then the passengers, who included a party of French exchange students making their way home after a trip to Ireland, were unable to leave the port because of the heavy snow. Most spent Tuesday night sleeping in the port on beds provided by local authorities.

Service stationary:  A handful of unfortunate drivers were stuck at a petrol station overnight on Monday in Oise, northern France. Among  them was Damien, who was due to pick up his wife at 9.30 pm. With snowfall intensifying on the motorway, he stopped in at the service station in Harvillers around 6.30 pm. The motorway was shut down, and Damien was stuck there without any information until midday on Tuesday. “It was like being left in the middle of a desert,” the unhappy 37-year-old told Metro France.

Walk on: Denis, 30, was stuck in his car on the N13 near Cherbourg when the motorway was shut down. Preferring to find a proper place to rest his head, he walked through falling snow for four hours before finally finding a hotel.

Stuck on the road: A major section of the N13 motorway between Caen and Cherbourg was shut down on Monday evening, leaving 200 motorists stranded in their vehicles all night. One of them, Jean-François, was not pleased. “It’s scandalous! They’ve known this was coming for three days. I spent the whole night in my car,” he told Le Parisien.

Airport blues: “There was absolutely no organization,” said Marina, who was one 350 desperate travellers who spent the night at Paris Beauvais airport from Monday into Tuesday. Others described it as a “disgrace” and a “nightmare”, with airlines allegedly leaving customers without proper announcements, information or solutions. Ryanair cancelled 21 of its 24 scheduled flights in and out of Paris Beauvais on Monday, according to Le Parisien.

Flight fright: One of the potentially more serious incidents to occur during the snow storm happened at Paris Orly airport, when a Tunisair flight skidded off the runway during landing with 140 presumably terrified passengers on board. Thankfully no one was injured, although an incident like that may make many think about taking a plane ever again or at least during winter.

Supermarket sweep up:  Supermarkets in northern France were obviously not made to withstand the weight of snow. There were reports that at least nine roofs of supermarket stores in La Manche and the Brittany area having caved in. “It’s bad enough that the roof collapsed but all this snow is going to melt so the worst is yet to come,” the mayor of one affected town told French media.

Drivers stuck: And its not over. Around 2,500 car and lorry drivers were still stuck on Wednesday morning on a stretch of the A1 motorway in the Somme region of northern France. They had been blocked overnight in freezing temperatures. Around 1,500 had taken shelter in a motorway rest area near d’Assevilliers, according to AFP. 

In the dark: Many people have complained about a lack of information when it came to public transport, but they should spare a thought for the thousands who were literally left in the dark over the last three days. Le Parisien reports that 100,000 homes were left without electricity throughout the north of France on Tuesday. Normandy and Brittany were worst affected, but residents in Picardy, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, and some in Île-de-France also had their power cut, before it was restored later in the day.

And there's more:

Coach blocked – A coach with 59 school children on board was stuck on the A2 motorway for 13 hours. The 14 to 15 year-olds had been on a visit to Paris from Brussels.

Do you have a horror story to tell from the storm in northern France? Let us know by email – [email protected] or on our Facebook page.

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