Page last updated at 08:32 GMT, Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Thousands trapped in cars overnight due to snow and ice

Traffic jam
Traffic ground to a halt for hours amid ice and slush

Thousands of people have been trapped in their cars overnight after snow and ice brought roads to a standstill.

In Basingstoke, 2,000 vehicles ground to a halt leaving about 3,000 people stranded, Hampshire Constabulary said.

Airport runways have been closed and many flights cancelled. But Eurostar has resumed a limited service.

The icy conditions are affecting large parts of England and Wales, although the south east and London have been worst affected.

Five emergency rest centres were set up in the Basingstoke area for those who could not get home.

Thousands of motorists and passengers were also stuck in Berkshire and south Oxfordshire.

The scene in Basingstoke and Stansted

Many spent the night in freezing conditions after roads in the counties became gridlocked on Monday afternoon.

South Central Ambulance, which covers Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire and Oxfordshire, said there had been a 70% increase in calls.

There were also long delays on the M4, the M3 and the M40, to the north and west of London.

The president of the AA, Edmund King, said the organisation had had its busiest day on Monday in 10 years with its own patrols getting stuck.

Salt spreader

He said: "Just trying to get out of Basingstoke onto the ring road was absolutely treacherous - it was like an ice rink. Cars were skidding all over the place.

"My car was skidding and colleagues now are still stuck in Basingstoke - stuck in the office there."

The majority of those stranded in the town were able to move on by 0230 GMT, police said, although some motorists were resting overnight in the rescue centres, set up by Hampshire County Council.

On Monday night one woman told the BBC: "My husband left work in Reading at 1500 GMT and is still to arrive home - it is now 2315 GMT. He has been trapped in traffic for over eight hours and will still have to leave the car and walk the rest of the way home."

'Massive backlog'

There was also widespread disruption to airports across the UK as a result of the ongoing severe weather, with people stranded at the airport or unable to reach the terminals.

Flights were suspended from Luton, Gatwick, Stansted, Glasgow and Edinburgh, and passengers will continue to face cancellations and delays on Tuesday.

Easyjet flights from Luton are cancelled until 1130 GMT, and Easyjet travellers can expect "severe disruption" at Gatwick.

A spokesman for the airline has issued an apology to all those affected by the disruption.

Despite the severe weather in the UK and Europe over the past five days, he added, Easyjet had operated more than 80% of its flights, albeit with some delays.

A member of staff directs queuing Eurostar passengers at St Pancras Station, in central London, as Eurostar services resume following days of cancellations due to bad weather
Eurostar passengers were finally allowed to board a train on Tuesday

Simon Calder, travel editor of the Independent, said air passengers should expect cancellations and delays on Tuesday but it was not as bad as predicted.

"Easyjet cancelled 200 flights yesterday, leaving 30,000 people out of position and there could be a similar number today because the planes and the crews are in the wrong places," he said.

He also said Easyjet might, for the first time, operate flights on Christmas Day to help catch up.

All passengers are advised to contact their airline.

The Eurostar train service was preparing to deal with a "massive backlog" as it reopens on Tuesday morning after being closed for three days due to the severe weather in northern France.

The company said it would be concentrating on easing the backlog, rather than selling new tickets.

Eurotunnel said it was managing to clear the backlog of cars and lorries waiting to use its Channel Tunnel car service.

Anyone without a reservation or with a day trip ticket was being advised not to show up as the priority would be to clear those people who were meant to travel over the weekend.

Domestic rail services across the UK were also delayed and buses replaced trains in many areas.

Southeastern trains said it would be operating a Saturday timetable service on mainline, metro and high-speed routes on Tuesday, with a normal weekday service for Thameslink trains run via Blackfriars.

The company said there would be additional high-speed services through the day and a shuttle service between London Bridge and Cannon Street during the morning and evening peak times.

In Scotland, police have advised drivers to take care in the wintry conditions and only make essential journeys.

Freezing temperatures have also affected much of Wales overnight, causing traffic problems and forcing schools to close.


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Times Online Snow-hit Britain: roads and airports closed - 51 mins ago
The Sun Lord Alp us - 11 hrs ago
Channel 4 News UK suffers amid snow response row - 17 hrs ago
Financial TimesEurostar promises to clear backlog - 17 hrs ago
New StatesmanWeather causes transport chaos - 27 hrs ago
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