Thousands greet the New Year as the North shivers

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The Independent Online

The New Year blew in yesterday with gales, blizzards and torrential rain as wintry weather took a grip of much of the country, prompting the Met Office to issue a severe-weather warning.

An eight-year-old boy was killed when a tree was toppled by gale-force winds in Dunham Park, near Altrincham, Cheshire. Three other people, including a two-year-old girl, were injured.

Drivers in the North were told to carry spades, warm clothes and water if they ventured out, because of the danger of snow drifts. Gusts of more than 65mph would create blizzard conditions, the Highways Agency warned.

Police in Cumbria received about 20 reports of fallen trees blocking roads. Light flooding caused by heavy rain led to a spate of accidents, a spokesman said.

"Our patrols have been put under pressure by a huge number of wind-related incidents." he said.

"There have also been a number of problems with heavy surface water after heavy rainfall started at about midday. There were downpours of torrential rain which weren't adequately dealt with by drainage systems and consequently caused a spate of accidents."

Three football matches in the North-west of England were abandoned because of the weather. The weather is expected to turn milder by the end of today.

New Year celebrations continued yesterday with half a million gathering in central London for the 19th annual parade. Around 10,000 performers, including marching bands and dance troupes from around the world, took part in the three-hour event which began in Parliament Square and finished in Piccadilly.

Volunteers collected tens of thousands of pounds for tsunami appeals en route. A spokesman for the event said: "I think the poignancy of this New Year wasn't lost on people. They enjoyed themselves but didn't forget about the people who are suffering."