The whole of Britain froze yesterday ... tomorrow there could be power cuts for many

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BRITAIN is facing its first national power cuts for more than 20 years tomorrow because the National Grid cannot cope with the record demand for power caused by severe weather, write Graham Ball and Nick Cohen.

A warning sent yesterday to the 12 regional electricity companies in England and Wales says that cuts of 5 to 10 per cent in demand could be necessary on Monday afternoon and evening. With 26 million customers dependent on the grid, a 10 per cent cut could mean two million homes in darkness.

One of the main reasons is the demand for power from five power stations who had their own power supplies cut by British Gas.

The threat of power cuts coincided with a threat from forecasters of continued bad weather and freezing temperatures. "It is going to get even worse before it gets any better" was the bleak message for most of Britain last night, as motorists endured blocked roads, the elderly were urged to stay indoors and dozens of sporting fixtures were abandoned.

Ministers are expected to announce tomorrow that special cold-weather payments will be made to pensioners in Scotland, northern and eastern England.

Among the sports events affected yesterday were 55 football matches that were abandoned in England and Scotland, just two short of the record number cancelled on 9 February, 1963. Rugby matches, and race meetings at Ayr, Cheltenham and Doncaster were also called off. Even the lottery suffered, as punters stayed indoors rather than buy tickets.

The weather was worst in the North-east and the Borders region. Most roads to Scotland were blocked, and only one lane of the M74 was in use.

The east coast bore the brunt of blizzards that swept in from the North Sea. The Yorkshire town of Whitby was cut off, cars were abandoned in Hull, and Clacton-on-Sea in Essex recorded more than a foot of snow.

The warmest places yesterday were just minus 2C (28F), and the London Weather Centre forecast further low temperatures, cold winds and snow flurries. "There is no sign of any really warm weather coming in the foreseeable future," a spokesman added.

The A69 at Longhorsley in Northumberland was closed for several hours after a freak accident. As Christian Glenwright perched on a roof fixing loose slates, the wind carried him and half the roof 20ft before dumping them on the road. Mr Glenwright received serious back injuries and was airlifted 20 miles to Wansbeck hospital, where his condition was later described as "comfortable".

Weather forecast, page 2