No racing, no rugby . . . at least there's curling

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The Independent Online
THE GREAT blizzards and heavy snowfalls predicted for much of the south of the country failed to materialise yesterday, but the weather still made travel treacherous, writes Graham Ball.

Instead of roads being blocked by drifting snow, they were made if anything more dangerous by freezing rain. South Wales was worst affected: ice and freezing rain were responsible for so many accidents that police were forced to close part of the M4.

Oxfordshire was also badly hit. A five-mile stretch of the A34 near Abingdon was closed after black ice caused at least 20 collisions. By lunchtime, the ambulance service had recorded 50 emergency calls in four hours.

In Surrey, ambulance crews dealt with 260 emergency calls from pedestrians who had fallen and from drivers and passengers whose cars had slid off the road.

Hampshire police logged 70 accidents in three hours. "Cars are spinning and turning over like ballerinas on skates," said a spokesman. Firemen were called to two phone boxes to release people who had become frozen in.

The homelessness charity Crisis reacted to the conditions by deciding to keep more than a dozen of its Christmas shelters open for an extra few days. "The thought that people could die from sleeping out in this freezing weather is quite terrifying," said a spokeswoman.

Elsewhere in the country, the worst-hit roads were in the Grampian region of Scotland, where many remained closed. In Shetland , which bore the brunt of the Arctic weather, many side roads could be tackled only in four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Sport was badly affected, with turf racing abandoned for the fifth day running. Only 16 league soccer matches in the whole of England, Wales and Scotland survived, and all of England's rugby union Courage League One matches were cancelled.

Last night the London Weather Centre said that after a dry period in the south and west, cloud and rain would move north and east across the rest of the country. These may produce snow in the north, but overall temperatures are set to slowly rise and normal weather patterns should return early in the New Year.

Snowed up, page 9