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Environment

Pretty pictures and transport chaos after heavy snow covers northern France

media The Sacré Coeur cathedral in the snow on Tuesday night RFI/Pierre René-Worms

Chaos hit the Paris transport system on Wednesday after more than 12 centimetres of snow fell on northern France in 24 hours. About 2,000 people spent the night in their cars, stuck on an icy highway overnight.

Some 25 départements in the northern half of France were on snow and black ice alert on Wednesday and more snow is expected from Frirday over the weekend.

More than 900 vehicles were stuck all night on the N118 road south-west of Paris following the heavy snowfall and many were still there on Monday morning.

Snow-clearing machinery was working all night, according to Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne.

There were 739 kilometres of traffic jams on Tuesday evening as commuters headed home.

The centre of the historic Montmartre district on Tuesday night ©Pierre René-Worms

But the streets were nearly empty on Wednesday, as motorists followed ministers advice to leave their cars at home, heavy good vehicles were banned from major roads and buses were not running throughout the Paris region.

The 200 kilometres of traffic jams was actually lower than average, according to monitoring site Sytadin.

Packed trains arrive late

On the plus side social media were crowded with photos of the capital in all its snowy beauty as were most newspapers' websites.

But the prettiness factor began to wear off on Wednesday as the winter wonderland turned into a swamp of grey slush.

A brave soul slides down one of Paris's few hills ©Pierre René-Worms

In any case, commuters were not amused as they crammed on to trains that were not only late but also packed, the number of trains having been reduced and the number of passengers risen with habitual car drivers taking to the rails.

Traffic on three lines in Ile de France was seriously disrupted due to trees on the line or branches hitting machinery.

The number of trains was cut on the RER A and RER B suburban lines and the connection to Charles de Gaulle airport closed for several hours.

There was also disruption and overcowding on most métro lines, although the relatively new tramlines were less seriously affected.

Medium-haul flights were delayed and in some cases cancelled, especially at Paris's Orly airport, where many passengers had to spend the night, but long-haul flights were normal, according to sources.

Half the short-haul flight at Orly were cancelled.

Extra homeless shelter places open

The government has announced that it would open an extra 1,000 places in homeless shelters this week.

There are now 145,000 places, 10,000 more than last year, government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux announced, although he was forced to disavow Sylvain Maillard, an MP for the ruling France on the Move party who had said that the "vast majority" of people sleeping in the street were doing so of their own accord.

Parisians concluded it was not good weather for biking ©Pierre René-Worms

Griveaux also took issue with Valérie Pécresse, the right-wing head of the regional council, who complained that the public had been poorly informed about transport disruption.

"It's difficult to know in advance how many centimetres of snow will fall," he snapped, pointing out that it has not snowed so heavily since 2013.

The weather even affected France's combative trade unions.

Workers fighting to keep jobs at the Carrefour supermarket chain, which has announced plans to shed 2,400 employees and sell off shops employing another 2,100, were forced to postpone a protest outside the company headquarters near Paris because their coaches were banned from the region.

Coming hot on the heels of flooding in Paris and the surrounding region, the snow is likely to swell the already overfull rivers that burst their banks last week.

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