Business takes off at Gatwick

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The demand for Easter holidays abroad will see almost a million people pass through Gatwick Airport by the end of this week.

The duty manager Keith Booker said last night that business over the two-week Easter period was up 15 per cent on last year with 950,000 travellers using the West Sussex airport.

Some 380,000 arrived or departed over the four-day holiday weekend, including 74,000 yesterday.

"Next weekend is the peak, with 83,000 expected to pass through the terminals on Saturday and 87,000 on Sunday," Mr Booker said. Favourite destinations were the United States, the Caribbean and Mediterranean resorts, while short skiing trips and rugby tours were also popular.

Early yesterday, about eight transatlantic flights into Gatwick were hit by fog. The flights were diverted to Birmingham, Stansted and Heathrow airports for refuelling before arriving at Gatwick two or three hours late.

A spokesman for Heathrow said 150,000 people passed through yesterday. The busiest day of the Easter period so far was last Thursday, with 165,000.

On the motorways yesterday, there was a gradual build-up of traffic as people headed home after weekend breaks.

An RAC spokeswoman said the M5 was busy through Avon as trippers returned from the South-west and the Severn Bridge experienced its usual delays. The A1 southbound through North Yorkshire to the M62 moved slowly through sheer volume of traffic.

Earlier, day-trippers brought traffic problems around zoos, theme parks and resorts. "There was congestion around Chester Zoo, Skegness was very busy, and there were long delays on the M55 heading for Blackpool," the spokeswoman added.

An accident on the A74 southbound caused an eight-mile tailback in Dumfries and Galloway.

nThe Health and Safety Executive will investigate reports of nitric acid escaping yesterday from an industrial waste plant in the east end of Sheffield owned by Yorkshire Water PLC. The M1 motorway had to be closed for more than two hours, rail services halted and people were advised to stay indoors.

Police described the incident as an "accidental venting of gas" at Global Environmental Services, resulting in a yellow cloud rising high above the plant.