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Wednesday, August 11, 1999 Published at 22:37 GMT 23:37 UK

Traffic chaos after eclipse

Gloomy weather has driven sky-watchers home

Traffic has clogged some major routes out of the West Country reducing vehicles to a near-standstill as eclipse-watchers travel home.

Special report
Special report
11 August
With the long-awaited eclipse in Devon and Cornwall now over, motoring organisations have reported severely congested traffic. There were more than 2,000 cars per hour heading north and east along the M5 motorway.

The main trouble spot was the main A30 road, where AA Roadwatch said traffic was flowing at only 5mph approaching the junction at the start of the M5, near Exeter.

Just further along the motorway, at junction 30, and at junction 20 south of Bristol, traffic was also still particularly heavy, an AA spokesman said.

BBC's John Kay: "M5 is at saturation point"
"While many people heeded advice to not travel to the West Country at the same time as everyone else, they seem to have forgotten this for the journey home," he said.

Earlier on Wednesday, 7,000 cars an hour jammed on to the M5 - 1,000 above its theoretical capacity.

Within hours of the end of the eclipse the AA reported 25 traffic trouble spots in Devon and Cormwall, including a 35-mile tailback on the A38 in Devon.

The exodus from the main eclipse zones began just 90 minutes after the phenonomen ended.

The M5 going north from Exeter was quickly filled to capacity with about 6,000 cars an hour heading out of Devon.

Trouble on the coast

Motoring organisations said gloomy weather in the region had prompted people to cut short their holidays and join day-trippers on the roads.

A RAC spokesman said: "Many people heeded the weather forecast and chose to watch the eclipse from Dorset, and we've had heavy traffic all day in places like Salcombe, Brixham, Paignton and Torquay.

"All the good parking spaces were gone at these resorts by early morning and now everyone's heading home."

Devon County Council officials estimate around 400,000 people arrived in the county to watch the eclipse.

Traffic management a 'success'

In Cornwall around 325,000 people arrived to boost the crowds of locals and those already on holiday there.

The total number of visitors to both counties is put at about 1.25m - the seasonal average is 525,000.

Nigel Buckler, of the West Country Tourist Board, said traffic management of the event had been a success and would change the perception of travel to the region.

He added: "If we can do it in this, the biggest-ever tourism event, we can do it in the normal summer season."

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