Snow comes down – and Britain grinds to a halt

Airports suspended, train services disrupted and schools closed after cold snap spreads to the south of England
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The Independent Online

Staff at Luton airport had been insistent: this time they would still be open despite the snow. They would bring in extra staff, they had tonnes of salt to grit the runways and they had been preparing for this since the summer. Besides, they said, it was not going to be that bad. But yesterday, it was the same old British story: unable to cope as the snow fell, they cancelled flights and shut their doors to shivering travellers yet again.

Despite Thursday's assurances that the airport had a "robust response plan" to deal with the conditions, it was forced to close until 10am yesterday, causing disruption to thousands of passengers. After 38 flights were cancelled and a further three diverted, a spokeswoman insisted: "The overnight operation did exactly what it was supposed to do."

Officials had insisted on Thursday that there would be no repeat of the flight cancellations in February because this latest period of snowfall would be relatively short. But they struggled to keep runways clear.

As forecasters predicted that the cold snap would continue through the weekend, airport officials dismissed claims that it should have been better prepared, saying that successfully opening the runway at 10am was an "incredible achievement". A spokeswoman added: "The snow fell very heavily and some aircraft could not land again, which disrupted our schedules. Because budget airlines often concentrate on getting services running again quickly, many flights were sacrificed to save disrupting later ones."

The airport said it had no clear idea of how many people were affected by the cancellations but admitted it could easily run into the thousands. There were severe delays at other airports across the country. Gatwick was closed yesterday morning, causing around 140 flight cancellations. Train links between the airport and London were also disrupted.

Heathrow suffered disruptions to flights, as did London City Airport, and Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen airports reported delays, particularly to flights from London. Stansted airport largely survived the snowfall but the Stansted Express – the main link between the airport and London – did not.

Train operators were also struggling to contend with the heavy snowfall. There were severe disruptions in north-east England, East Anglia and on services between Hull and London King's Cross, where some passengers had to wait up to two hours. People travelling from London to Sussex and Kent also suffered severe delays.

Many children got to start their Christmas holidays early after the weather forced mass school closures. But those who had hoped to go to Lapland UK in Kent were disappointed after the theme park, which promises a "magical" experience in a "stunning, snowy LaplandUK village" was closed, because it snowed.

Last night EDF Energy expected hundreds of customers in eastern England to be left without electricity as engineers rushed to fix power lines affected by the snow and wind. Earlier United Utilities was forced to apologise after thousands of homes in Cumbria were also left without power. Areas of East Anglia and the South-east, including London, will have more snow today, and the Met Office has released severe weather warnings for tomorrow.

There was severe congestion on roads. The Highways Agency warned that driving conditions remained difficult, advising against non-essential travel in the county. There were road closures in Kent, Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire.

Where the snow fell yesterday....

Road

There was severe congestion on roads across the country and a series of accidents involving jack-knifed lorries caused problems in Kent. The Highways Agency warned that driving conditions in the county remain difficult. There were also part-closures of the M40 in Buckinghamshire and problems on the A14 in Northamptonshire.

Rail

Trains to and from King’s Cross were delayed by up to two hours, while lines in north-eastern England were closed. London overground services were delayed and services were suspended from London Victoria. There were also delays of 60 minutes to services from London to Canterbury, Tunbridge Wells and Ashford International.

Airports

At least 140 flights were cancelled at Gatwick airport yesterday but services had resumed by the evening. There were cancellations at Stansted and continued delays throughout the day. Heathrow’s runways remained open but there were more than 80 cancellations due to snowfall in Europe. Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow airports also reported delays.

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