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London counts the cost of snow dump

BRITAIN'S capital cleared the soggy remnants of a paralyzing snowstorm yesterday as businesses counted the multibillion-dollar cost.

An estimated 6 million people skipped work on Monday when the largest snowstorm to hit London in 18 years stopped bus and subway services, grounded airliners and hobbled businesses. The Federation of Small Businesses said the cost to Britain's economy through lost productivity could be as high as 3 billion pounds (US$4.3 billion).

Transportation officials, business leaders and local authorities accused one another of failing to prepare for the long-predicted storm that crippled Britain's transport network by dropping more than 10 centimeters of snow in London overnight on Sunday, and another 10 centimeters on Monday.

"We can't change nature and if nature does this to us we have a problem," said John Ransford, chief executive of Britain's Local Government Association, which represents the small district and town councils largely responsible for keeping roads and sidewalks clear.

London Mayor Boris Johnson said many of the city's authorities didn't have enough snow plows to deal with the downfall.

In the borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, the local authority said it had no plows and only two machines to salt roads.

"One of the world's biggest economies should not be grinding to a halt," said Stephen Alambritis of the Federation of Small Businesses.

Most airports, bus routes and subway lines in London were working as normal yesterday, but more than 1,000 British schools remained closed and thousands of workers were staying home.

The Association of British Insurers said car accidents on Britain's icy highways surged on Monday, with claims for damage running 30 percent higher than usual.

The director general of the British Chambers of Commerce said few people raised in the freezing British winters of the 1960s and 1970s could understand the failure to prepare.


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