Christmas getaway under threat as chill winds from Russia bring snow

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The Independent Online

Icy winds from Russia brought renewed travel chaos across much of Britain last night as the country's beleaguered travel network struggled once more to keep trains, planes and cars running through winter snow storms. Those hoping to get away for Christmas are now bracing themselves for a continuation of the widespread travel chaos with forecasters predicting large amounts of snow towards the end of the week.

Eurostar passengers prepared to bed down outside ticket offices last night, wondering whether they would cross the Channel in time for Christmas, and thousands more travellers across the country found they had their own logistical battles to fight as they turned up to the country's airports and train stations.

Flights were suspended out of Gatwick for most of yesterday afternoon as engineers battled to de-ice the runway, resulting in widespread delays and cancellations. Fresh snowfall yesterday evening also lead to the closure of runways at Luton, Stansted and London City Airport.

In Manchester hundreds of passengers spent what should have been the first day of their holiday desperately trying to find new flights after heavy snow caused runway closures throughout Sunday evening. There were also similar delays at Bristol and Aberdeen airports which were badly hit by snow storms throughout Sunday evening leading to knock-on delays throughout yesterday.

Heathrow was not affected by any major snowfall but flights coming in from the States have been delayed by anything up to six hours because of even more severe winter conditions on the east coast. Last night a spokesperson told passengers to keep an eye on any new travel updates.

"It has just started snowing here, we are operating fine at the moment but that might change throughout the evening," he said. "Passengers should expect delays and we are advising them to check our website and give extra time for travelling."

The icy conditions led to delays across the rail network, particularly in the Kent area where Southeastern trains had to cancel a number of services. It will now operate a Saturday service on its trains today.

Last night the Met Office had severe weather warnings in place throughout much of the south-west, the Home Counties, Wales and the north-west. The current icy conditions are being blown in from Russia, with further snow flurries expected throughout the week, particularly on Friday – Christmas Day – when the south-east and south-west could see between two to four inches of snow. Yesterday, Reading experienced major traffic jams after four hours of heavy snow, when an estimated 500 Christmas shoppers found themselves stranded in their vehicles outside the town's Oracle shopping centre and unable to leave the car park.

On the roads drivers had to contend with particularly hazardous conditions. The AA said yesterday was one of its busiest days on the roads in the past 10 years. Their emergency vehicles had attended more than 16,000 breakdowns by 3pm, 6,000 more than they would usually expect to attend on an ordinary Monday in December. In South Wales more than 180 schools and nurseries were closed because of poor weather conditions.

In Bradford, two teenage boys discovered the body of a man who had somehow become trapped under ice in a fountain outside the city's magistrates' court. Police say the man's death appears to have been a "very tragic accident" but have appealed for any witnesses to come forward. It is thought the man fell through the ice in the fountain and was unable to break back through.

There were also growing fears for a 22-year-old from Essex who has not been seen since Saturday night. Adam Passfield from Chelmsford was last seen in freezing weather at 2.30am on Saturday after an evening out with members of a local football club.

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