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Stranded travelers bunk at airports in Europe

Snow and ice cause travel havoc at the start of the Christmas rush. Delays may last for days.

LONDON - Stranded travelers slept on makeshift beds at European airports Sunday as wintry weather caused travel havoc, possibly setting off days of delays for those trying to head away for the holidays by road, rail, and air.

Cancellations and delays will likely continue through the week, the British travel industry group ABTA and others said.

Heathrow Airport, Europe's busiest hub for air passengers, stopped accepting arrivals Sunday at the start of the Christmas travel rush.

"The domino effect of disruption to services could continue for some days to come," Heathrow spokesman Andrew Teacher said.

Icy conditions curtailed Europe's high-speed train services, sent cars skidding through slushy streets, and saw major events postponed - including shows and sports events.

About 40 percent of flights were canceled at Frankfurt airport and at Paris' Charles de Gaulle.

Passengers slept in makeshift dormitories at the Paris airport and at Amsterdam's Schiphol, while staff at Heathrow and Gatwick airports in London handed out foam mats and foil blankets to the stranded. Some fashioned improvised beds from clothes, chairs, and stacked suitcases.

"There seems to be a lot of confusion and I have only seen one Heathrow worker. All the airline desks are shut because it is a Sunday - it's absolutely ridiculous," said Elizabeth Herridge, who arrived at the airport only to learn that her flight to Amsterdam had been canceled.

Airports and tour operators said there would be disruption to flights through next week since many aircraft are stuck in the wrong locations.

"Inevitably there is always some knock-on effect when there's a situation like this," said Sean Tipton, spokesman for Britain's ABTA.

However, he said the disruption caused by Europe's blast of icy weather was minor compared with the chaos triggered by the giant ash cloud spewed from Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano earlier this year. "To those people caught up in the disruption, that's not going to be much consolation," Tipton said.

Britain's national weather forecaster, the Met Office, said the nation has experienced the heaviest December snowfalls in decades and is on course for record low temperatures as well.

"You have to look back to December 1981 to find similar snow depths," forecaster Helen Chivers said. "If the second half of the month is as cold as the first, this will be the coldest December on record since 1910."

France is also having one of its snowiest winters in years. Many TGV fast trains were running slower than usual, adding 20 minutes to each journey. Eurostar trains to Britain and Thalys trains to Belgium and the Netherlands were also affected.

French weather service Meteo France forecast more snow for the Paris region for Monday and a risk of snow and ice in Paris on Dec. 26 - another major travel day.

In Italy, Florence's airport was closed Sunday morning amid snow and ice storms in Tuscany.

Soccer games in England, Scotland, France, and the Netherlands were called off as a result of the conditions.