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EDITIONS
Friday, 31 January, 2003, 20:34 GMT
Motorists still facing snow misery
Snow plough
The clear-up operation is continuing
Arctic weather conditions are continuing to cause problems across Britain, after 24 hours of travel chaos.

Motorists who defy police warnings to stay at home face treacherous roads, with ice-covered routes littered with abandoned cars and lorries.

Transport Secretary Alistair Darling has criticised the speed at which the Highways Agency responded to the extreme weather conditions.

The important thing is to understand what went wrong and to make sure it doesn't happen again

David York,
Highways Agency

Thousands of motorists, particularly in the East Midlands and South-East England, have been stuck in huge traffic jams, while airports and parts of the rail network are also severely affected.

Action sooner

Speaking publicly for the first time since the snow storms, Mr Darling said roads should have been gritted earlier, especially as the snow was forecast as long ago as last weekend.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Any Questions? programme, he said the Highways Agency - for which he is responsible - had done its best but could have taken action sooner.

He also said London Underground and the railway industry need to examine their response to the weather conditions.

The government said it would bring forward legislation requiring councils to grit the roads, adding: "Every local authority is given a substantial amount of money to cover road maintenance."

No resignation

Bosses from the Highways Agency - which maintains motorways and major roads - apologised for the "unacceptable" conditions and vowed to review guidance on how police and local authorities deal with severe weather.

But David York, the agencies operation director, told the BBC he was not prepared to resign.

He said: "I am not thinking about my neck at all.

"The important thing is to understand what went wrong and to make sure it doesn't happen again."

Nose-to-tail in icy conditions
My usual 40-minute journey took me nine hours

Sarah Board, England

The poor weather meant travel misery for the Chancellor Gordon Brown, whose flight to the Rosyth naval shipyard in Fife, Scotland was delayed by several hours on Friday afternoon.

He was there to see the HMS Invincible which is being refitted.

All Eurostar services from Waterloo and Ashford to the continent were cancelled because of the severe weather.

And BA said 19 short-haul flights due to leave Heathrow on Saturday have been cancelled due to the weather.

The AA received 16,000 breakdown calls by 1500GMT on Friday and expect another 20,000 by the end of the day.

This is three times normal call levels.

'Such mayhem'

In Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire hundreds of schools been have shut down and thousands of homes left without power.

Forecasters have warned that there will be freezing weather again on Friday night, with ice on the roads continuing to cause dangerous conditions.

The worst traffic jams were on the M11 between London and Cambridge, as the ice and snow brought traffic to a standstill.

Some drivers reported being stuck on the motorway for 20 hours and police said at least 12 lorries had jack-knifed.

Adam Harley, who had been on the road since 1600 GMT on Thursday, told BBC News 24: "I'm sure it wasn't just a freak snow storm that came last night and it was, by the way, only two inches of snow to cause such mayhem."

Police said rescue centres had been set up by the Women's Royal Voluntary Service to provide motorists with food and drink.

The Highways Agency said heavy traffic prevented its teams from spreading grit on the M11 on Thursday afternoon.

The motorway has now reopened Cambridgeshire Police confirmed, but they warned drivers not to travel unless it was absolutely necessary.

Treacherous

Elsewhere in Britain motorists were warned to venture onto the roads only if it was absolutely necessary.

Travel information
Drivers stuck on the M11
Stansted airport - closed until further notice
Heathrow airport - severe delays
Gatwick airport - operating as normal
M11 reopened
A14 Cambridgeshire closed
Conditions were particularly treacherous in the Grampian region of Scotland, East Anglia and north Yorkshire, which have been hit by blizzards.

Passengers at London airports faced severe delays and cancellations as the bad weather grounded flights.

Stansted airport, which was originally closed because it was "too dangerous" to use the runway, remained shut because staff could not get to work.

Hundreds of flights were also cancelled at Gatwick, but a spokesman said the airport was back to normal by Friday night.

Heathrow passengers have been advised to check the latest flight details on our web site, www.BA.com, before leaving home, or ring to re-book flights on 0800 727 800.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Daniel Boettcher
"The ice and snow hit air traffic too"
The BBC's Ben Brown
"The Highways Agency is trying to work out what went wrong"
The BBC's Duncan Kennedy
"The M11 was openly totally reopened at about six on Friday evening"

Talking PointTALKING POINT
A snow plough passes an abandoned car near Fylingdales, North Yorkshire Snow storm
Your experiences of the extreme conditions

Why does Britain come to a standstill when it snows?
Why can't we cope?


Heavy snow swept across Britain today, with northern England badly affected
Shivering in the snow

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