Fury of the travellers grounded by snow storms

Railways and airports creak back to life as weathermen forecast 'gradual warming'

Winter storms continued to wreak havoc across Britain yesterday as thousands of travellers struggled through what has become one of the most fraught Christmas getaways ever.

Heavy snow showers forced thousands of drivers to abandon their vehicles and airports struggled once more to keep runways clear of snow, leading to hundreds of flight cancellations. With more long queues in departure lounges, passengers again lamented the inability of airlines to keep flying once snowflakes start falling.

Those hit worst by travel delays were families flying with easyJet, which cancelled 46 flights in and out of the UK and 100 more across Europe. Departures were also disrupted at Scottish airports. Although Heathrow and Gatwick managed to keep their runways open all day, there were delays and cancellations caused by the knock-on effects of earlier closures.

There were angry scenes at Luton when easyJet passengers whose flights were cancelled were told they were unlikely to find another flight with the airline until after Boxing Day.

However, there were signs of a slow recovery for travellers, most noticeably at Eurostar, which began ferrying the thousands of rail passengers who had been stranded on both sides of the Channel Tunnel since services were suspended on Friday.

Weather forecasters also offered a glimmer of hope to those hoping to get away by tomorrow, with the Met Office predicting a "gradual warming" over coming days that should see an end to the blizzards that stranded so many. However, it warned that road travel at night would remain treacherous because of freezing temperatures, and said further snow storms were likely over the Scottish Highlands and Lowlands and the North-West of England.

As another icy dawn broke over the Home Counties, vast swathes of the region were blanketed in another thick carpet of snow. Between Monday night and early yesterday, the AA received its highest number of callouts in 25 years as an estimated 2,000 motorists abandoned cars around Basingstoke. Many people were forced to walk home or return to their offices to spend the night, including staff at the AA's headquarters just outside the town.

Judy Latcham of Lamb Brooke, a Basingstoke legal practice, said: "It was absolute craziness. We had senior partners sleeping at their desks, with one even driving two miles on his way home before abandoning his car and walking back to the office."

Edmund King, the AA's president, also found himself stuck in snowdrifts in Basingstoke. He blamed councils for not getting their gritting lorries out early enough, saying: "They should have acted sooner and more thoroughly."

His claims were refuted by the Local Government Association, which said gritters had been hampered by a "perfect storm".

The Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading cancelled all non-emergency operations and appointments. Power cuts hits about 14,000 homes in West Berkshire and Hampshire and a further 900 in Buckinghamshire.

The human toll of the bad weather extended beyond frustrated journeys. Last night, police said a man's body had been pulled from Brightwell Lake in Northamptonshire. He is thought to have got into difficulty trying to rescue a dog during a duck shoot.

Richard Brown, the chief executive of Eurostar, admitted that the company would not resume a full timetable until after Christmas but said it would do all it could to get passengers home after the chaos at the weekend. "If you want to travel and you have to travel, we will carry you," he insisted.

But for those booked to travel today or tomorrow, the uncertainty continues. One 28-year-old Frenchman, who asked not to be named, was trying to get home to Paris to visit an uncle who had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer, but still had no guarantee he would be on a train in time. "My mother has not seen him since she was 18 and has only just got back in contact with him," the man said. "This will be our only Christmas together."

In Scotland, almost every train out of Glasgow Central Station was suspended after some got stuck in snow amid major signalling problems. Police in Aberdeen said snow was causing "mayhem" for lorries stuck on the A90. Cars travelling to and from Wales experienced tailbacks after the new Severn bridge was closed temporarily because of falling ice. Meanwhile, a woman in Hyde, Manchester, gave birth in the back of a mountain rescue 4x4 vehicle after snow and ice prevented ambulances from reaching her.

Snowbound: The problems and the predictions

Snowfall last night

Temperatures are expected to drop as low as -8C in some parts with heavy snow forecast for the North-west, south-west Scotland and the Highlands. Snow should ease up across the south.

Today

Most places should see a relatively fine and bright day. Milder air will start to come in from the south-west leading to some showers and sleet. Potential snow in the North-west and Scotland.

Christmas Eve

Potential for snow across the Pennines, Lake District and the Welsh Marches but elsewhere slightly warmer air should stop any large-scale snow storms. Conditions at night will remain icy

Roads

The Met Office warns of ‘widespread icy roads’ in the North-west, Yorkshire and Humberside, Newcastle and Gateshead, London and the South-east. Heavy snow is forecast for Scotland.

Rail

Southeastern and Southern trains were forced to cut services because of the weather yesterday. Snow could also affect services up the west coast. Checkfor live service updates on www.nationalrail.co.uk

Airports

Passengers travelling with easyJet or out of Luton should be prepared for delays. Manchester and Scotland’s airports could be hit by snow overnight. Passengers should check airport websites before they set off.

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