Page last updated at 09:17 GMT, Friday, 6 February 2009
UK prepares for freezing weekend



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Stranded motorists were taken to Chudleigh village hall, near Exeter

About 200 people have been rescued by emergency crews in Devon after spending several hours stranded in their vehicles in heavy snow.

Rescuers were called to the A38 at Haldon Hill, near Exeter, at about 2100 GMT after weather deteriorated suddenly. A few drivers remain trapped.

Travel chaos and school closures have hit south-west England and Wales.

Severe weather warnings are in force across the UK, with eight inches (20cm) of snow forecast in places.

The Met Office warned that heavy snow was likely on high ground in Bath, Bristol, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Plymouth, Swindon, Torbay and Wiltshire.

At least two inches (5cm) of snow is likely to fall in Essex, through Cambridgeshire and the West Midlands, as far as Dorset in the west.

Cars stuck in snow on A38 in Devon

  • Chiltern Railways, First Great Western, London Midland, Scotrail, Stansted Express and Virgin Trains are all subject to cancellations and alterations.
  • Flights at Bristol Airport are suspended until 1230 GMT, with no arrivals or departures at Luton before 1200 GMT.
  • Airports operator BAA is warning travellers to allow extra time for their journeys to other airports in case of adverse weather.
  • The Highways Agency is warning against travel across much of south western England.
  • The M5 southbound in the Exeter area has been closed.
  • Part of the M4 was reduced to one lane overnight after a lorry jack-knifed near Swindon, Wiltshire.
  • The main route between north and south Wales - the A470 - is closed just south of Brecon.

School closures have been reported across south-west England, with 200 closed in Gloucestershire, 240 in Hereford and Worcestershire and all Bath and north east Somerset schools shut.

All schools in Buckinghamshire are closed, and about 241 in Northamptonshire, 300 in Wiltshire, 291 in Oxfordshire and at least 200 across Wales are also shut.

BBC weather forecaster Chris Fawkes said the heaviest snow was falling between Oxfordshire and Berkshire, and the Bristol channel area.

"It's really heavy at the moment but this band of wintry weather is going to move through the south-east of England but it will get lighter.

"Drifting snow could make the roads more difficult to clear in parts of the west country."

The far north of Scotland would be affected by snow showers all day, he added.

A few miles west of the Haldon Hill incident, near Tavistock, the Army was called in to pick up about 60 people stuck on the A386.

Emergency centre

Cars were gradually towed away from the A38 through the night and waiting motorists were given hot drinks. Lorries were left on the road because it was too difficult to move them.

The Highways Agency is continuing to clear snow from the southbound carriageway so traffic on that side can be moved.

Police spokesman Alan Mobbs said every available four-wheel drive vehicle was being used to reach stranded drivers.

"People are very cold and quite wet," he said.

"Anyone who has been rescued was very, very pleased to see us, and they are being taken to the reception centres."

He said there was up to 12 inches (30cm) of snow on the roads affected.

The force is planning to bus people back to their cars from rescue centres once the roads were clear.

Police set up an emergency relief centre for those affected at Exeter Race Course, which is at the top of Haldon Hill.

People have also been taken to the town hall in the nearby village of Chudleigh.

You just couldn't really believe it was happening. The snow was coming down so thick and fast
Stranded motorist

Civilian Dartmoor Rescue Group teams from Ashburton and Plymouth were also scrambled.

Driver Nicky Micklewhite told the BBC: "We started to come up the hill. The cars just skidded all over the place."

Gwyn Drake, from the Highways Agency, said there was nothing anyone could have done to have prevented the incident.

Police said no-one had been seriously hurt in the incident, although a couple of people did need insulin.

'Thick and fast'

Receptionist Sue Rolfe abandoned her car on the A38 and walked to The Exeter Court hotel where she works.

She said the hotel had filled up rapidly with stranded motorists.

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"We've got everyone walking in off the street," she said.

Councillor Colin Gibbs, who lives close to the A38, said he had been trying to help those stranded and had taken some people back to the village pub.

One woman in the Chudleigh rest centre told the BBC: "You just couldn't really believe it was happening.

"The snow was coming down so thick and fast and it just meant that you could hardly see anything."

Many travellers in Cornwall were also forced to cut short their journeys, spending the night in town halls or community centres.

Mary Judson, from Bude, was among 50 others on a coach trip which had to divert to Launceston Town Hall.

"As we came into Launceston, the coach bumped into the kerb at one point and stopped.

"Everybody's fine. We've had lovely cups of tea from a lady who had been in bed and got up to make us tea, which was wonderful."

A woman in Devon gave birth to twin girls after being taken to hospital in a fire engine, fitted with snow chains, on Thursday night. Both an ambulance and Sea King helicopter had been unable to get through heavy snow.

Some councils say they are running out of road salt and the AA warned shortages have created a "road safety crisis".

Authorities in Wiltshire are hoping to get 500 tonnes of salt from Devon County Council.



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