'Send out a rescue party': Stranded Eurostar passengers throng Gare du Nord

Hundreds wait for trains in Paris as Channel tunnel chaos continues

At Gare du Nord today, hundreds of anxious passengers, desperate to get back to the UK, repeatedly asked the question nobody could answer: "When can I get a Eurostar home"?

Pained, tired Eurostar workers handed out information sheets informing people that, because of "exceptional weather conditions", five Eurostar trains, as well as Eurotunnel shuttles and freight trains, had broken down.

No trains would be running today, nor did they know if any would leave tomorrow, they explained.

Passengers were told to take a train to Calais, where they could get a ferry to Dover. But they were left to frantically attempt to organise their own travel and soon found there were no trains to Calais left, and no more space on ferries. Others phoned friends and family, asking them to help find alternative ways to get home.

Baskets of croissants, macaroons and sweets were handed out, but did little to lift the mood.

Sze-Wei, a 27-year-old who lives in the south of France, first attempted to travel back to London to see her friends and family for Christmas on Saturday afternoon.

Having left Paris at 4pm, the train was stopped at Lille and passengers were told it could not enter the Channel tunnel. Although some asked to get off, they were told that – despite the train being at a platform – this was not possible.

The train then went back to Roissy, outside Paris, where they were told they would have to spend the night in a hotel. "By this point, I just collapsed in tears," Sze-Wei said.

"I am so furious – there was an astonishing lack of information. I was here in the freezing cold all day yesterday, and now we are just being told to get on with it ourselves. It's absolutely shameful.

"The people on the ground have tried to be as helpful as possible, but they are not being told anything. The management have behaved appallingly."

Adrianna Davidson, who is heavily pregnant, was stuck on a train for 14 hours on Friday night after joining her husband in Paris for what was supposed to have been a brief trip.

"I've missed a medical appointment and I've been in the same clothes for three days. I'm really not having fun any more," she said.

She and her husband, Robert, were attempting to get permission from a French doctor to fly, but neither were hopeful and both expected to spend another night in a hotel.

Describing the journey on Friday, when the couple were trapped in a train at Calais overnight – having been told repeatedly that it would go back to Paris – Robert said: "Nobody would make a decision.

"It was chaotic and ridiculous ... they quite obviously had no contingency plans in place."

Many people spent most of yesterday at Gare du Nord, and seemed set to spend several more hours there in freezing conditions.

Seventy-year-old Louise Dez, who was supposed to take a train to London today to spend Christmas with her daughter and grandchildren, had travelled to the station from the Paris suburbs after attempting – without success – to get information by telephone.

"I'm worried that I won't be able to get to London at all, and won't be able to give my grandchildren their presents," she said.

"They still believe in Father Christmas, but he might not be coming this year."

Alliances have been formed and new friendships made over the past few days, with many people relying on their fellow passengers for both information and support.

A shared contempt for the way in which Eurostar has managed the situation has provided a strong bond.

Eurostar employees told passengers that their expenses for trains, ferries, hotels and food, would be reimbursed, but some people explained they simply did not have enough money in their accounts for the initial outlay.

"I'm going to have to get my dad to put some money in my account," 22-year-old Priscilla Roberts, who had spent a few days in the French capital, said. "He's not going to be happy about that."

As a voice over the public address system apologised for any inconvenience caused for what seemed like the 100th time, Felicity Taylor, the headmistress of the Queen's School for Girls in Cheshire, explained that she had only come to Paris to carry out reconnaissance for a school trip.

"Now I've got trapped and I can't get home," she said. "Please get someone to send out a rescue party."


Alexandra Topping

The GuardianTramp

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