Italian capital grinds to halt as severe weather halts traffic
Locals shiver in tiled homes thanks to city’s heating restrictions
By Emma Reynolds
The Colosseum and other ancient tourist sights closed to tourists as Rome saw snow for the first time in 26 years.
Traffic in the Italian capital ground to a halt as buses struggled to climb icy hills and authorities accustomed to a warm climate fought to cope.
Visitors were stopped from entering the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, the former home of Rome’s ancient emperors, over fears they could slip on ice.
The news came as as the big freeze took hold of Europe, taking the continent’s death toll to more than 176.
The last substantial snowfalls in Rome were in 1985 and 1986, though there have been other cases of lighter snow since then, including in 2010.
Snow began falling on Friday morning, leaving a light dusting on trees and cars and forming slush on the roads.
After easing for a few hours, wind-driven snow started falling again heavily in the city before midnight and continued into this morning.
The authorities ordered cars without tyre chains off the road till at least noon as vehicles were trapped for hours on the ring road after many cars skidded and frustrated drivers abandoned their vehicles having waited hours for accidents to be cleared.
Since the capital rarely sees freezing temperatures, heating in homes is only legally allowed for 10 to 12 hours a day, to cut down on pollution. The cold snap, with temperatures hovering at or just below the freezing point, left Romans shivering in their homes, many of which have tile and marble floors.
Snow dusted pine and palm trees and changed into slush on the cobblestone streets in the centre. In many neighbourhoods, 6cm (2.5 inches) of snow accumulated.
After hearing the forecasts on Thursday night, Mayor Gianni Alemanno cancelled classes on Friday and Saturday, but said school buildings would stay open so working parents could drop off their children if they had no other place to leave them.
Buses were stuck at the bottom of the steep streets of the Monteverde neighbourhood near the ancient Janiculum Hill, and commuters and residents ascended the hill by foot. Balconies resembled skating rinks as overnight rain froze and snow covered the ripe fruit on orange trees growing on the Roman terraces.
North of Rome, a ferry that was just leaving the port of Civitavecchia for Sardinia slammed into a dock when the ship in the wind, Italian news agency ANSA reported early Saturday. The impact left a gash in the ferry’s side above the water line, and two tugs pulled the ferry back toward the dock so the 262 passengers and 53 crew members on board could be evacuated, the report said.
Authorities appealed to Italians to avoid unnecessary travel, as the cold spell was forecast to continue well into the next week.
As snow covered Italy, air travellers faced problems, as Alitalia said it was cancelling about 40 departures and landings as a precaution.
In several parts of the country, some passengers on commuter trains as well as high speed lines complained that they were left in the dark or cold for hours after snow and ice blocked tracks.
In the northern Italian town of Maranello, Ferrari unveiled its overhauled Formula One car in a low-key internet presentation after the full launch was cancelled because of the snowstorm.
The storm dumped 40 or more centimetres (more than 3 feet) of snow, with even higher drifts, across the central-north, which was hit even harder than Rome.