Worst snowstorm in 18 years shuts down British capital

Londoners were forced to contend with commuter chaos on Monday as the worst snowstorm in 18 years sparked hundreds of flight cancellations and ground the city's famed public transit system to a near halt.
Motorists, pedestrians and cyclists struggle to contend with more than 15 centimetres of snowfall on London's famed Oxford Street on Monday, as the city was hit with the worst snowstorm in 18 years. ((Catherine Seymour/CBC))
Londoners were forced to contend with commuter chaos on Monday as the worst snowstorm in 18 years sparked hundreds of flight cancellations, and the city's famed public transit system ground to a near halt.

While 20 centimetres of snow might not raise much concern in most parts of Canada, the amount has wreaked havoc on the British capital overnight and into the day, the CBC's Adrienne Arsenault reported from London.

"What has become very clear over the last 12 hours is that this country is not at all prepared," Arsenault said.

There are no buses running in the entire city, while 10 out of the 11 Underground lines are shut down.

London Mayor Boris Johnson said the buses were pulled from service because the vehicles would become a "lethal weapon" if they skidded.

The city's ambulance services have said they will only respond in life-threatening cases. 

More snow is expected later Monday and on Tuesday, forecasters said.

'We're not in Russia here'

Snow covers the top of a transit support van. ((Catherine Seymour/CBC))
At London's Heathrow Airport, more than 650 flights were cancelled. The very last plane to land, a flight from Cyprus, slid off the runway. No one was injured.

Major delays and cancellations were also reported at London's other major airports at Gatwick, Luton and Stansted. London's City Airport was closed.

In the city's normally bustling centre, shops, schools and courts shut down and long trails of commuters trudged through the streets, looking for scarce taxis or ways to work.

"We're not in Russia here," said Guy Pitt, a Transport for London spokesman. "We don't have an infrastructure built for constant snow."

Karla Duarte, a Canadian living in London, told CBC News on Monday that she prepared to go to work on the bus, just like every other day.

"For the first time I've been here, there weren't any cars on the street," Duarte said.

It was only when a passerby informed her that the buses weren't running that she realized something was wrong. She called work and was told no one was coming in.

The news of a day off wasn't being greeted entirely with gloom, she said, as children who would otherwise be in school flocked to the parks to play in the snow.

"They haven't really had that opportunity," Duarte said. "In general, there's quite a good feeling."