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Wintry weather disrupts travel in Paris region

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • NEW: A new record for traffic jams in Paris: 420 kilometers
  • The Eiffel Tower is closed
  • Air traffic is suspended at Charles de Gaulle airport
  • Secondary highways are closed and train travel is also disrupted
  • Paris
  • France

Paris (CNN) -- Heavy snow paralyzed travel in the Paris region Wednesday, where officials suspended air traffic at one of Europe's busiest airports, closed several highways and shut down the Eiffel Tower.

The resulting traffic jams set a new record. According to the National Center for Highway Information, snarled traffic lined 420 kilometers of roadways around the capital.

Officials at the Charles de Gaulle airport suspended air traffic for several hours in the afternoon, and began limited operations in the evening, according to Aeroports de Paris, the region's airport authority. There were dozens of flight cancellations and there will be long delays for other flights, authorities said. At the Orly airport, several flights were canceled and delays were running up to three hours, the airport authority said on its website.

Météo France has issued an "orange" weather warning across central France, the second-highest level of warning. As much as 10-15 centimeters of snow has fallen in some areas, and forecasters are predicting 2 to 3 more centimeters will come down before Thursday.

Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux called on people to limit their travel as much as possible.

"As we wait for the situation to improve... I urge extreme caution," he told reporters. "Pedestrians, especially, be careful, because the sidewalks are also very slippery."

Hortefeux said 2,000 police and 240 civil protection agents have been dispatched to the Paris region to help stranded motorists.

As night -- and more snow -- fell, shelters began opening in the City of Light and its suburbs to take in people who couldn't make it home.

Truck traffic was forbidden on several highways around Paris and those leading into the capital due to ice on the roadways and the heavy snowfall, officials said. Many access points into the capital were shut down by authorities, stranding thousands of commuters.

Some disruptions were also reported on the region's railways, with the high-speed TGV trains limited to a speed of 230 kph instead of the usual speeds of up to 320 kph. That will cause delays in arrival times, the rail authority SNCF said.

The bus network in Paris was completely stopped, the group responsible for Parisian transport (RATP) reported on its website.

Authorities shut down the Eiffel Tower in Paris to tourists because of the weather.

Journalist Celine Martelet of radio station RMC told CNN affiliate BFM-TV she has been blocked on a highway near Paris for three hours.

"There's an incredible silence, not one noise," she said. "People are leaving their cars and trying to go on foot. I saw one man on skis, who was going to find his wife who was stuck in a traffic jam two kilometers away. He was going to help her get out of her car."

Video from BFM-TV showed traffic jams on the Parisian perimeter stretching for several kilometers. Roadways were like ice skating rinks, drivers said.

"At the worst, I will walk home," one man said, standing beside a long line of cars. "I've got a little place about 5 kilometers from here. It'll be a nice walk."

The owner of a towing service advised stranded commuters to not even bother calling.

"We can't even get out to help you," said Naima Rabari of Dan Depann. "It's really a catastrophe."

CNN's Alanne Orjoux, Saskya Vandoorne and Winnie Andrews contributed to this report