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Fierce cold snap hits Italy

Roads closed, trains slowed and flights delayed for snow and ice

21 December, 18:33
Fierce cold snap hits Italy (ANSA) - Rome, December 21 - A fierce cold snap hit Italy on Monday paralyzing roads and railways in much of the country and piling up delays in the nation's airports.

Temperatures plunged to freezing over the weekend dumping over 60 cm of snow on north-central regions and considerably more in the Alps.

So far, three deaths are being blamed on the early winter storm, an Ivory Coast Native in the southern region of Puglia who reportedly froze to death Sunday night in his tent and an elderly couple in the Piedmont region who were killed when their gas pipes froze and exploded. After a brief respite on Monday morning, heavy snowfall resumed particularly in Milan where local residents were asked to leave their cars at home and take local transportation to keep the roads clear.

However, mounting snow banks and rush-hour traffic combined to fill the city's streets with stalled cars.

Train services in and out of the northern metropolis continues to be slow after a number of trains were cancelled over the weekend leaving hundreds of holiday travellers stranded at the city's central train station.

Over 350 trains have been cancelled around the country due to piling snow and frozen rail lines, with hour-long delays for many more.

Milan's airport has remained open despite the bad weather, though a number of flights were cancelled over the weekend.

Flights were also cancelled and delayed out of airports in Florence, Genoa, Ancona, Pisa and Trieste where temperatures on Sunday night sank to 17 degrees below freezing.

National transport agency ENAC said Monday afternoon that ''while all the country's airports are open, heavy precipitation expected this evening at high altitudes and in the north could cause further flight delays and cancellations'' Heavy snowfall continued causing pileups on Italian highways in northern regions of the country as well as mountainous areas of the southwestern Calabria regions. Mountain roads were closed around the country, isolating a number of Alpine communities.

Road crews in Sicily worked throughout the night salting local motorways after a hard freeze followed rains around the island.

Temperatures around Italy are expected to rise starting from Tuesday reaching seasonal norms by Christmas.

But Italians are in for a wet holiday according to meteorologists who expect rain on Thursday to last throughout the weekend.

Civil Protection Chief Guido Bertolaso described the weather situation as "critical", but said emergency measures had "kept the country from falling into chaos".

"Fifteen years ago, Italy would have come to a standstill in weather like this," he said.

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