Four killed as blizzards sweep the North

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The Independent Online
Major roads reopened in Yorkshire last night, 24 hours after blizzards in which four men died and thousands of travellers were stranded.

West Yorkshire police said three of the four victims appeared to have abandoned their cars, two dying in the suburbs of Leeds, another in Halifax. The fourth man died at Boothtown, near Halifax, while pushing a car.

The heavy snow, which fell on a band of central northern England from the Mersey to the Humber, condemned many to accommodation ranging from the spartan to the exotic.

The M62 became impassable on Wednesday night, severing the last trans-Pennine route four hours after the blizzards began. Many motorists west of the road's summit spent the night at Birch service station, near Rochdale. But hundreds had to sleep in theirvehicles, sustained by visits from police cars bearing gallons of soup. More than 3,000 vehicles were still stranded on the motorway yesterday morning. Police said last night that the motorway was open, but still difficult to negotiate.

The Snake and Woodhead passes had been closed by dusk on Wednesday in conditions described by South Yorkshire and Derbyshire police as atrocious. Temperatures on the Pennines fell below zero last night, turning roads to ice as police from Barnsley were still helping drivers to recover vehicles.

"About a dozen lorry drivers stayed with their vehicles, which meant we could help them. Those that were abandoned meant the snow ploughs and gritters could not do their work," a police spokesman said.

In Bradford, the Anglican cathedral gave refuge to despairing travellers. In Leeds, the audience at West Yorkshire Playhouse emerged from the world premiere of a play called The Winter Guest to find themselves cut off. Playhouse staff decided the show must go on.

"Luvvies for Blizzard Relief" found camp beds for 300 and entertained them with a medley of musical hits until 3am. "The stars were marvellous," a Playhouse spokesman said. "They helped wherever they could, and kept everyone's spirits up."

Authors could have drawn inspiration from the diverse real- life cast assembled at the Wagon and Horses pub above Sheffield, where more than 100 stranded travellers spent the night.

"We had lorry drivers, school children who had come out for a walk, a party of physiotherapists from Manchester, and even one German," Rachel Batty, the landlady, said. "It was like New Year's Eve."

At Pendle, Lancashire, 22 children and three adults who had been at a ski school were brought to safety by a fell rescue team.

Public transport was widely disrupted on Wednesday night and roads were chaotic, with five-hour journeys commonplace for commuters accustomed to a 30-minute drive. The centres of Barnsley, Bradford, Halifax, Huddersfield, Leeds and Sheffield endured protracted gridlocks as the blizzard arrived in time for rush hour. Leeds motorists blamed gritters, who had concentrated their salt on high ground west of the city. In Sheffield, traffic was still trailing out of the city centre at 11pm. On the city's many steep hills, groups of enterprising youths charged 50p each for pushing slithering vehicles. Fashionable four-wheel drive vehicles were stuck in the jams with humble Fiestas and Cavaliers. Police said drivers of the 4x4s had ignored road closures, only to be thwarted by drifts - or abandoned Fiestas. On one of the main commuter roads out of Sheffield, drivers of motionless Range Rovers, Shoguns and Jeeps were taunted by youths singing: "You sad bastard, you've got f our wheel drive."