'No sign of an end' yet to the Big Freeze

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The Independent Online

Britain's big freeze showed no sign of easing tonight as heavy snow again brought swathes of the country to a standstill.

Hospitals cancelled operations, the Army was drafted in to rescue motorists and emergency moves to ease the gritting crisis were demanded as a further 1.5ft (47cm) of snow fell in some parts.

Crucial transport networks went into meltdown during heavy flurries across the south while hundreds of thousands of children enjoyed an extension to their holidays after school closures.

With millions unable to get into work on a day estimated to have cost businesses £690 million, forecasters warned the misery will continue into next week.

After striking Scotland and the north of England, the heavy snowfall moved south to the home counties and London - where it was set to continue falling over night.

Clare Allen, a forecaster with MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said parts of Kent could be worst hit tonight.

She added: "In terms of the overall cold snap, there is no sign of it coming to an end - it goes on as long as we can read into next week."

The lowest temperatures overnight were -13C (9F) in Aboyne, Aberdeenshire, and -10.3C (14F) in Marham, Norfolk. Parts of the northern Highlands recorded 47cm (18.5in), MeteoGroup said.

Emergency measures to alleviate the gritting crisis, allowing Britain's biggest salt mine to supply the country day and night, were put forward by councillors. They said they would look favourably on suspending planning restrictions limiting lorry movements to and from Winsford's salt mine in Cheshire.



FLIGHTS

One of the busiest airports in the country - Gatwick in West Sussex - remained shut for much of the day with more than 240 flights cancelled.

Hundreds were stranded at Stansted after snow forced airport officials to shut the runway. Scores queued for information and passengers wanting to speak to staff at a Ryanair desk were told told to expect a two to three-hour wait. Officials at the airport in Essex said more than 20 flights were cancelled and more than 20 incoming planes diverted. They advised travellers to contact airlines for information about re-booking and compensation. Stansted said the runway had been closed for around two hours from 9am

Budget airline easyJet had to axe more than 250 flights and other carriers were hit by the closure of a number of airports.

Cardiff Airport re-opened and departing flights were operating with delays. Flights to Aberdeen, Anglesey and Amsterdam were cancelled.

The UK's biggest airport - Heathrow in west London - remained open but services there were subject to delays and cancellations.

Cardiff airport will remain closed until at least 3pm. There were delays and cancellations at Manchester, Aberdeen and Leeds Bradford airports.





ROADS

Dyfed Powys Police were appealing to motorists who abandoned their cars yesterday to collect them today. Abandoned cars have become a problem for other drivers in some areas by causing an obstruction. Roads around the village of Keeston, near Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, are a particular problem, police said.

An elderly man died after his car went out of control on an icy road, according to police. The pensioner was driving a blue Morris Minor which left the road at the junction of Common Lane and Warsash Road in Titchfield, Hampshire. A police spokesman said: "The driver was found slumped at the wheel. No other vehicles were involved and the driver was pronounced dead at the scene."

Police working with Armed Forces and fire service personnel used military trucks and Land Rovers to access motorists who were caught in a 10-mile jam on the A3(M) trunk road at Waterlooville, Hampshire. Many of those stuck were evacuated to rescue centres while others remained in their vehicles overnight. The Highways Agency warned drivers to avoid the A3 and the A3(M) in Hampshire and Surrey.

Elsewhere, the M27 motorway was passable this morning but traffic was very slow, while many minor roads were hazardous with police advising motorists to stay at home unless absolutely necessary.

On the Isle of Wight, 40 motorists were evacuated to a rest centre at the Riverside Centre in Newport after being found taking cover in a bus shelter by police.

Devon and Cornwall Police warned drivers to make only essential journeys.



NATIONAL RAIL

There were no services between Glasgow and Edinburgh on CrossCountry services, while buses replaced trains between Inverness and Perth in Scotland.

There were no services operating between Sheffield and Leeds on East Midlands Trains, while trees on the line disrupted South West Trains' services between Portsmouth Harbour and Guildford.

First TransPennine Express was unable to run any trains between Carlisle and Edinburgh.

South West Trains - whose routes pass through worst-hit Surrey, Hampshire and Dorset - was running a restricted service today. Southeastern also ran reduced services, although passengers with standard tickets were accepted on the high-speed service without paying the normal supplement.

Chiltern Railways also said it was running an amended timetable, while Virgin Trains warned that trains on all routes via Carlisle were being delayed because of broken down trains caused by the poor weather.

First Great Western, which operates trains between South Wales and London Paddington, was running a severely reduced service. The company was unable to run services between Newton Abbot and Paignton in Devon, while there were delays to its trains between Bristol and Newport/Cardiff and between Exeter St Davids and Plymouth.

National Express East Anglia reported delays to services through Colchester in Essex, while there was a reduced service on the Stansted Express.





The Association of Train Operating Companies said that, by 12.30pm, 61 per cent of trains had run on time, 34 per cent had arrived late and 5 per cent had been cancelled.

It added that train companies were putting extra staff on standby to help deal with the weather conditions and provide information to passengers.



Platforms and approaches to stations were being gritted and customers being kept informed, where possible, by email and text and websites.



Passengers can call a new telephone number - 08453 017 641 - for information.















LONDON

London Overground services between London and Watford Junction in Hertfordshire were suspended.

Tube trains were running today, but with some delays. The Northern line was suspended between High Barnet and Archway, while the Piccadilly line was suspended between Acton Town and Rayners Lane. Some buses had to take diversions.

A Transport for London (TfL) spokesman said: "TfL has well prepared cold weather plans which were put in place across our network again last night, working closely with our partners in the London boroughs.

"Tube, bus and all other TfL services are operating well this morning."Our fleet of 38 gritters have been operating across the TfL road network working to keep the roads and pavements clear and de-icing trains have been running across the Tube, London Overground, Docklands Light Railway and Tramlink networks overnight.

"We will continue to closely monitor weather forecasts and encourage everyone to allow more time for your journey and to check before you travel."



SCHOOLS

North Somerset Council has already announced that all schools within the authority will be closed tomorrow.

At least 320 of Hertfordshire's 520 schools were closed. Hampshire County Council said at least 410 schools out of a total of 536 were shut.

Buckinghamshire County Council said that 176 schools were shut, and Oxfordshire County Council reported the closure of 164 of its schools.

There were also closures in West Berkshire, East and West Sussex, Milton Keynes, Slough, Surrey, Bracknell Forest and Windsor and Maidenhead.

More than 70 schools were shut in Kent, and there were dozens of closures in Brighton.

In Harrow, north London, 58 schools were closed and its 130 Special Needs Transport routes for schoolchildren and vulnerable adults were cancelled.

Other boroughs in the capital fared better, with only a handful of closures in Southwark, Westminster and Camden.

The South West saw several schools closed, including all those in Bath and North East Somerset.

So far 330 schools in Gloucestershire, 143 in Wiltshire, about 200 in Somerset and some 80 in Bristol have shut up shop.

School transport in Swindon and South Gloucestershire was cancelled and the University of the West of England in Bristol was shut.

In Devon and Cornwall, around 450 schools were closed today after reported snowfalls of almost 4in (10cm).

More than 100 schools were closed in Nottinghamshire this morning, including every special school in the county.

In Derbyshire more than 100 schools were shut, nearly 90 in Northamptonshire and around 45 in Bedfordshire.

In Birmingham more than 100 schools were closed after six inches of snow fell in some parts of the city.

Pupils at 39 schools in Coventry were given the day off, with dozens of schools and colleges in Shropshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire also closing for the day.

In North Wales, more than 430 schools were shut across six councils, with Wrexham Council alone closing 184.

More than 40 schools were closed in Essex today, while education authority officials said a handful of schools were closed in parts of East Anglia because of heating problems.

In the North West, Salford City Council shut all its schools, children's centres and nurseries.

Across Greater Manchester, tens of thousands more pupils got another day off - with local parks becoming playgrounds for hordes of youngsters on sledges.

More than 100 schools in Manchester were closed, with Warrington shutting all its schools.

In Bury, 77 schools were closed, in Wigan 76 schools and colleges were shut, in Salford all of its 102 schools were closed, in Bolton 93 were shut, in Oldham 99, in Tameside, to the east of Manchester, 99 schools were closed, in Stockport around 100 and in Rochdale 68.

Other local authorities reporting school closures included Cumbria and St Helens, and around half the schools in Liverpool were shut.

Elsewhere on Merseyside, 115 schools across Wirral were shut, almost 60 in Knowsley and a similar number in Sefton.

More than 90 schools covered by Cheshire East, Cheshire West and Chester councils gave pupils the day off.

Further afield, around 340 schools were closed across Lancashire.

Hundreds of schools in Yorkshire decided not to open today, including more than 50 in Leeds and more than 100 in South Yorkshire.

More than 300 schools in the North East were closed because of the weather.

In County Durham, 88 schools were shut, while around 90 closed in Tyne and Wear and 152 in Northumberland.

The icy conditions meant several schools were closed in Scotland.

Scottish Borders, Midlothian, East Lothian and Aberdeenshire councils said none of their schools were open for pupils today.

Nine schools in the Western Isles were shut, and in Dumfries and Galloway only a handful of the area's 120 schools were open.

In Aberdeen, 12 schools were closed or partially closed, 41 schools and nurseries were shut in Fife and 21 schools had to close in Edinburgh.



AND ALSO...

* A gritter overturned on an icy road leaving the driver shaken and bruised, a council said today. The gritter was travelling at 20mph when it overturned, Ceredigion County Council said. A crane was used to move the lorry after the accident on the B4343 between Lampeter and Llanddewi Brefi in Ceredigion, Mid Wales. The driver has since returned to work and another lorry has been sent out to take the place of the overturned gritter, which will require major repairs.

* In Knighton, Powys, Mid Wales, a police helicopter delivered food and medical supplies to a family who have been stranded for more than two weeks. A spokesman for Dyfed-Powys Police said the family had difficulty getting out because they were in a very rural location but they were also reluctant to leave their horses uncared for. He added that a member of the family was in need of medication, which was being taken in the helicopter.

* South East Coast Ambulance Service (SECAmb) said it was treating the severe weather conditions as a major incident and warned it would have problems reaching those with minor injuries. Director of operations Sue Harris said: "We are prioritising life-threatening calls above all others, and due to the adverse conditions it is unlikely that we will reach patients with minor injuries and symptoms in worst-hit areas. If you need medical advice please contact NHS Direct on 0845 4647."

* National Grid, which issued only its second ever gas balancing alert (GBA) on Monday after a 30 per cent surge in seasonal demand, said the warning would not be repeated today. GBAs are a way of warning customers on "interruptible contracts" to ease off on the fuel as well as encouraging suppliers to bring in more gas.

* Coastguard rescue teams helped ambulance crews to reach casualties during the heavy snow. Three teams from Hill Head, Lymington and Southampton provided support with 4x4 vehicles to help people whom the other emergency services could not reach.

* Grit stocks in England were generally holding up to demand, according to the Highways Agency. But in north London, Harrow Council said only 650 tonnes of salt remained - enough for four days at the heaviest rate of spreading, or more than a fortnight at a lighter rate. Grit supplies have nearly run out in West Berkshire, one of the most heavily affected areas, with only enough left to cover the main roads one more time. Motorists were urged only to travel if it was absolutely necessary.

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