Rome struggles with 1st heavy snow in 26 years

Rome struggles with 1st heavy snow in 26 years
Snow blankets the ancient Roman Forum on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012. A rare snowfall blanketed Rome, forcing the closure of the Colosseum over fears tourists would slip on the icy ruins
ROME (AP) - Romans bewildered by their city's first big snowfall in 26 years used government-issued shovels to clear sidewalks and piazzas, and kitchen utensils to clear windshields Saturday.

The snow - as deep as 8 inches in some neighborhoods - made buses and taxis scarce and shut down tourist sites such as the Colosseum. It also covered the dome of St. Peter's Basilica, blanketed ancient arches in the Roman Forum, and toppled some towering umbrella pine tress near the Vatican.

Saturday's snowstorm, coming a day after a light snowfall, combined for the biggest accumulations since 1986, and left many motorists stranded on the city's beltway and its ancient and narrow consular roads.

Volunteers for the national Civil Protection agency handed out 4,000 shovels in several main piazzas to Romans trying to clear their streets of snow and slush ahead of a forecast nighttime freeze.

One woman in a hilly section of Rome used her toddler daughter's plastic beach trowel to scoop a mound of snow off the seat of the family's motor scooter. Others used their hands or spatulas to clear windshields.

Rome's mayor ordered schools closed through Monday. The consumer advocate group ADOC said the city had failed to adequately sand or plow highways, and urged drivers who were stranded to file damage claims.

Children walked around with snowballs the size of soccer balls tucked under their arms.

In the Circus Maximus, the sprawling, sloping grounds where chariot races were once held, Romans and tourists scrambled up the slope and tossed snowballs.

While the city struggled with the unusually cold and snowy weather, Italians to the north continued to dig out from up more than 6 feet (2 meters) of snow and shiver in frigid temperatures.

The farm lobby Coldiretti said that 2 million cows and pigs were at risk because supplies of feed couldn't reach them and some frozen pipes for water troughs had burst.

It estimated some euro50 million ($65 million) losses already to crops, including artichokes, cabbages and radicchio, and warned that olive trees and grape vines would suffer significant damage. Olive oil and wine production are two mainstays of Italian agriculture.

North of Rome, passengers who were evacuated from a Sardinia-bound ferry after heavy wind banged it into a dock in Civitavecchia on Friday night spent hours aboard other ferries in hope of departing, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.

Passengers aboard a commuter train running north of Rome said they were trapped inside stalled cars for hours before being evacuated to a gymnasium in a nearby town. Another train, running between Rome and the town of Avezzano, was blocked for hours.

A few towns in isolated areas of north-central Italy have been without electricity for days after snowstorms affected power lines.