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Eastern Britain warned of more snow on the way

Snow brought travel disruption to Britain today, with flights cancelled, roads closed, motorists stranded in their cars and rail services hit.

Meanwhile more snow if forecast overnight along eastern England, from Yorkshire down to Kent.

The UK's second-busiest airport - Gatwick in West Sussex - had to shut for more than seven hours, with 18 flights cancelled, and there were no early-morning flights at Luton airport in Bedfordshire.

A Gatwick spokesman said: "We had much more snow here than in other areas. It has taken time to clear the runway."

The knock-on effect continued well into the afternoon, with delays reverberating across most UK airports.

The weather proved good news for around 500,000 children, however, as their Christmas holidays started a day early when schools shut. Parents were left arranging emergency child care as more than 1,500 schools - the majority of them across eastern England - broke up early for the festive holiday.

A spokesman from Essex County Council said 279 schools were forced to close, while 219 were shut in Suffolk. Another 135 shut in Norfolk, more than 100 in Nofolk, 155 in Buckinghamshire, 100 in Northamptonshire and 58 in Surrey were also affected. Worst hit was Kent, were about 350 were closed.

Rail passengers also faced limited disruption. National Express East Anglia has cancelled several services in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. Trains into Kent were still disrupted this afternoon.

On the roads, worst affected was the coastbound M20 in Kent, which was still experiencing severe congestion coastbound this afternoon between Junctions 3 and 7. Other roads were returning to normal this afternoon after huge hold-ups this morning across the south-east.

A section of the M40 in Buckinghamshire shut in both directions during the morning rush-hour. Accidents also led to lane closures on the M2 in Kent.

Blizzards caused more than 70 lorries to get stuck on the A120 leading out of Harwich in Essex. Vehicles were also trapped on other major roads in Essex, including the A12 northbound at Colchester.

Road closures included a section of the A168 in North Yorkshire, part of the A1/M in North Yorkshire, and a section of the A1 in Bedfordshire.

Officers at Sussex Police said they received reports of "several dozen" road crashes overnight, mainly low-speed collisions resulting in minor injuries.

Ambulance officials in Sussex and Kent earlier urged the public to help by calling 999 only in an emergency and avoiding non-essential car journeys.

Television presenter Davina McCall was among those stuck on the A21 in Kent for three hours after a lorry blocked the road.

She said: "We got wedged in a whole series of cars and it was pelting down with snow. I did call the police after a couple of hours and they came pretty quickly."

McCall described Pc Stevens, the officer who rescued her, as "a saint" and posted his photo on her Twitter page.