Rush to flee threat of a white Easter

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The Independent Online
RECORD numbers of holidaymakers are leaving Britain today because of the soaring value of the pound and the threat of a white Easter.

Airports and motoring organisations have been bracing themselves for the rush as an estimated 1.5 million Britons escape a cold, wet and windy start to the long weekend.

Torrential rainfall caused flash flooding in parts of Britain yesterday as holidaymakers attempted an early exit for the four-day break.

A spokesman for AA Roadwatch said: "The most badly affected areas have been in the Midlands. Extreme flooding in Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Northamptonshire and Warwickshire has led to many roads being closed. The fact that people were leaving to go on holiday has made matters even worse."

Wales was also badly affected by the flooding, with the Environment Agency issuing warnings there. Weather experts say the torrential rain and plunging temperatures are set to continue throughout the holiday.

A spokeswoman for the Association of British Travel Agents (Abta) said yesterday: "An unprecedented number of people are going abroad this Easter, and it's largely due to the pound being so strong, especially against the European currencies. The Canary Islands, mainland Spain and the Balearics are the most popular destination for people going abroad. The favourable exchange rate makes self-catering very popular."

At least half a million people are expected to use Channel tunnel services and ferries, while more than 800,000 people will fly.

A spokesman for Heathrow Airport said: "Easter is one the busiest times of the year. We are expecting more than half a million passengers through the airport this weekend."

Greece is set to enjoy a tourist boom because of the recent devaluation of the drachma, according to Abta. But holidaymakers heading for Athens could face disruption because of public strikes this week in sympathy with Olympic Airways workers, who are unhappy with plans to restructure the state airline.

The AA has warned motorists to take extra care because of dangerous driving conditions. Motorists on the M25 were confronted with the bizarre sight of a yacht lying on the carriageway yesterday, after high winds had overturned it from its trailer.

Weather experts say there is a chance of a white Easter in Britain, although the possibility of snow is confined mainly to high ground.

William Hill, the bookmaker, has cut its odds on a white Easter from 33-1 to 6-1, following forecasts that the weekend will bring temperatures below freezing.