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Rare snow storm disrupts flights, shuts schools in Rome

[ROME] A rare snow storm in Rome on Monday disrupted transport, shut down schools and prompted Italian authorities to call in the army to help clear the streets.

Piazza Venezia, Rome's central square which is usually a cacophony of car horns and a tangle of traffic, was eerily empty, quiet and white as dawn broke.

In St. Peter's Square, priests and seminarians from the Vatican threw snowballs at each other. Near the Colosseum, which usually only gets a light covering of the white stuff inside the snow globes hawked to tourists, students skied down the Oppian Hill.

But there was less fun at Rome's airports. Fiumicino was forced to operate with only one runway during the night, when 10 cm (4 inches) of snow fell in less than four hours. The capital's second airport, Ciampino, was closed overnight and workers were clearing its two runways.

Italian aviation officials said Ryanair had cancelled all flights to and from Ciampino, its Italian hub. Most of Italy's other main airports were open, albeit with flight delays.

It was the heaviest snowfall in Rome in six years and the largest for the end of February in decades. The city, which is not equipped to deal with snow emergencies due to their rarity, asked other areas to send in snow ploughs to help clear roads.

Schools were ordered closed and many people could not reach their places of work. Police asked residents to stay at home if possible.

Nearly all city buses were running on reduced schedules and some stations of the light railway system were closed.