Hundreds of motorists stranded after fresh blizzards sweep in

Emergency services called in as heavy snow in south-west closes major roads, with another eight inches expected today
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The Independent Online

Up to 200 motorists found themselves trapped on a road in Devon last night after three inches of snow fell in an hour.

Firefighters were called to a "major incident" on the A38 near Exeter at around 9pm, after a line of cars became stuck on Telegraph Hill in blizzard conditions. As the snow continued unabated, many drivers were forced to abandon their vehicles and seek refuge for the night in nearby hotels. Around two feet of snow had fallen by midnight, leaving other roads in the vicinity equally impassable.

One of the motorists, Sue Bullock, told how she had been trapped in her car for more than three hours. She said: "We are sitting here just waiting for someone to rescue us."

Devon and Cornwall Police said the A38 was closed shortly after 9pm after "significant heavy snow", and that up to 200 vehicles remained stuck on the hill. A spokesman said: "We have a reference centre open and we've got multiple localities for the rest of the force, with vehicles stuck. That is the only update as we are still assessing."

Last night's drama came shortly after weather forecasters had warned that harsh weather would return to London and the South-east today, with stocks of gritting salt already at critical levels. Forecasters warned that up to eight inches of snow could fall across southern and South-east England, including the capital, in the early hours of today before reaching the Midlands and East Anglia. Other parts of the country were still coping with disruption caused by snow on Wednesday night.

Two walkers died in freezing weather in the Lake District as snowfall across the West Country, Wales and Northern Ireland caused chaos on motorways and at airports including Luton and Belfast. The M4, M5 and M1 suffered closures and hundreds of schools were shut in Wales.

The forecast that the heavy snow could continue into the weekend gave added weight to concerns that dwindling levels of salt needed to de-ice roads is causing accidents and endangering drivers. The AA said the decision by some local authorities to cut back on the number of routes treated was turning roads into "death traps".

Britain's two main rock salt producers have said they are working at maximum capacity but admit there is a backlog in delivering supplies. Cleveland Potash, the second-largest supplier, said it had arranged for 40,000 tonnes of salt to be imported from a sister mine in Spain to meet demand.

County councils in Warwickshire, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Ceredigion as well as Swindon borough council confirmed they were only treating main roads. The Highways Agency said it had three to four days of supplies left to grit motorways and A roads. One district council in South Wales accused the Highways Agency of "blocking" its order for supplies, forcing it to close three mountain roads.

In Worcestershire, the lack of gritting salt caused the closure of the county's schools after the council said it could not clear access roads: "In view of the snowfall and the fact the county council has insufficient salt to grit and clear the roads, Worcestershire County Council are closing all schools today."

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, left a message on his Twitter page yesterday afternoon, telling readers: "Have spent the afternoon with TfL [Transport for London] making sure everything is prepared for the big dump tonight if it comes." Half an hour later, he added: "For all those of you feeling mischievous when I said dump I was referring to the snow."

Forecasters said a band of weather from Devon to London crossing the country in the early hours of today could bring snow in similar quantities to that seen in the capital and the South-east on Monday.

The freezing weather appears to have claimed two lives in the past 24 hours, both in the Langdale area of the Lake District. The body of a missing walker was found by mountain rescue teams and another walker died after falling more than 100ft when he slipped on ice.

Forecasters warned that up to eight inches of snow could fall across southern and South-east England, including the capital, in the early hours of today before reaching the Midlands and East Anglia. Other parts of the country were still coping with disruption caused by snow on Wednesday night.

Two walkers died in freezing weather in the Lake District as snowfall across the West Country, Wales and Northern Ireland caused chaos on motorways and at airports including Luton and Belfast. The M4, M5 and M1 suffered closures and hundreds of schools were shut in Wales.

The forecast that the heavy snow could continue into the weekend gave added weight to concerns that dwindling levels of salt needed to de-ice roads is causing accidents and endangering drivers. The AA said the decision by some local authorities to cut back on the number of routes treated was turning roads into "death traps".

Britain's two main rock salt producers have said they are working at maximum capacity but admit there is a backlog in delivering supplies. Cleveland Potash, the second largest supplier, said it had arranged for 40,000 tonnes of salt to be imported from a sister mine in Spain to meet demand.

County councils in Warwickshire, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Ceredigion as well as Swindon borough council confirmed they were only treating main roads. The Highways Agency said it had three to four days of supplies left to grit motorways and key A roads. One district council in South Wales accused the Highways Agency of "blocking" its order for supplies, forcing it to close three mountain roads.

In Worcestershire, the lack of gritting salt caused the closure of the county's schools after the council said it could not clear access roads: "In view of the snowfall and the fact the county council has insufficient salt to grit and clear the roads, Worcestershire County Council are closing all schools today."

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, left a message on his Twitter page yesterday afternoon, telling readers: "Have spent the afternoon with TfL [Transport for London] making sure everything is prepared for the big dump tonight if it comes." Half an hour later, he added: "For all those of you feeling mischievous when I said dump I was referring to the snow."

Edmund King, president of the AA, said: "This is a very serious situation with some roads becoming death traps. The Government should step in to assess the situation and ensure that salt stocks are maintained in places at immediate risk from snow and ice." The motoring organisation said its insurance arm had seen a 56 per cent increase in claims for shunts.

One MP said preparations for the extreme weather had been shown to be "woefully inadequate". Rosie Cooper, Labour MP for Lancashire West, said it was clear councils were gritting fewer roads each year. Geoff Hoon, the Transport Secretary, said buying snow ploughs and storing extra gritting salt would be an expensive way of dealing with such unusual weather.

The Met Office confirmed there would be little respite from the extreme conditions, which are providing the coldest winter in Britain in a decade. A severe weather warning was issued last night for heavy snow in southern and central England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Forecasters said a band of weather from Devon to London crossing the country in the early hours of today could bring snow in similar quantities to that seen in the capital and the South-east on Monday.

The freezing weather appears to have claimed two lives in the past 24 hours, both in the Langdale area of the Lake District. The body of a missing walker was found by mountain rescue teams and another walker died after falling more than 100ft when he slipped on ice.

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