ROME - Romans bewildered by their city's first big snowfall in 26 years used government-issued shovels to clear sidewalks, and kitchen utensils to clear windshields Saturday.
The snow - up to 8 inches (20 centimeters) deep in some neighborhoods - made buses and taxis scarce. It also shut down tourist sites including the Colosseum, where the tiers which once held cheering spectators for gladiator fights where hidden by snow.
Snow blanketed the dome of St. Peter's Basilica and crowned the ancient arches in the Roman Forum, but its weight toppled trees, sending some of them crashing onto empty parked cars. Saturday's storm, coming a day after a light snowfall, combined for the biggest accumulations since 1986, and left many motorists stranded for hours on city's streets.
The consumer advocate group ADOC, contending the city failed to adequately sand or plow highways, urged drivers who were stranded to file damage claims. 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 before 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, although few were brave or foolhardy enough to use scooters on icy cobblestones. Other Romans used their hands or spatulas to clear windshields, and sponge mops to clear sidewalks.
Rome's mayor extended the shutdown of schools through Monday and said city offices would also be closed Monday. Mayor Gianni Alemanno appealed to any private citizens with shovels to help clear the city. His appeal seemed a bit exaggerated to one Roman couple strolling in Villa Doria Pamphili, where children rolled snowballs until they were the size of soccer balls.
Now a city park, the villa was once the summer estate of nobles, and hundreds of Romans poured in to romp in the snow after someone broke the lock on a gate that authorities had closed for fear the public might be injured on the villa's hilly slopes. "Between the army and Civil Protection volunteers, that should suffice, although a little bit of goodwill wouldn't hurt," said Daniela De Angelis of the appeal for citizen shovelers.
Massimo Buongarzoni said he used a broom and dustpan to clear the entrance to their apartment building. In the Circus Maximus, the sprawling, sloping grounds where chariot races were once held, Romans and tourists 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 about euro50 million ($65 million) in losses already to crops, including artichokes, cabbages and radicchio, and warned that olive trees and grape vines would sustain significant damage. Olive oil and wine production are two mainstays of Italian agriculture. No deaths were blamed on the snow in Rome, but several weather-linked deaths occurred elsewhere, including two in the nearby countryside.
Hundreds of passengers on commuter and long-distance trains complained they were trapped for hours inside, often in unheated cars, after snow and ice blocked tracks Friday evening in several areas of Italy.
By FRANCES D'EMILIO Associated Press
The Associated Press