Minister and blind explorer join ranks of stranded

Victims
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The Independent Online

"You have to expect the unexpected and be able to deal with it," said Miles Hilton-Barber, a blind explorer, of the British climate yesterday.

"You have to expect the unexpected and be able to deal with it," said Miles Hilton-Barber, a blind explorer, of the British climate yesterday.

His pragmatism was remarkable in the circumstances. Mr Hilton-Barber's final preparations to become the first blind person to walk 730 miles to the South Pole - a quest that will take 65 days in temperatures as low as minus 30C - had been brought to an abrupt halt no further from home than storm-lashed Leicester.

The 52-year-old, prevented from completing a final training session after getting stuck at a railway station, was in good company.

Also affected by the storms yesterday was the minister Stephen Timms, who was forced to cancel a hitherto-secret meeting with freight industry representatives only 14 days before fresh fuel-duty protests are due to start.

Mr Timms, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, had been due to meet leaders of the 11,000-strong Freight Transport Association in Liverpool to hear their views on the impending fuel crisis, but was stranded in London by the severe weather battering the country.

The start of the second part of the inquiry into last year's Ladbroke Grove train crash was also postponed until today.

Scores of London court cases - including a murder trial - were also delayed or postponed as judges, barristers, solicitors, witnesses, defendants and staff rang in with tales of weather and travel chaos. "The phones haven't stopped ringing as today's conditions have thrown timetables out of the window," said one harassed Crown Court list officer yesterday.

At Freshford, Wiltshire, firefighters on their way to deal with flooding, also found themselves cast adrift when the river Avon burst its banks, lifting their fire engine off its wheels and carrying it across the road. The men scrambled to the roof, then swam to safety.

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