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Friday, 31 January, 2003, 16:23 GMT
Thousands trapped in snow storm
M11 slip road
Vehicles were trapped on the M11 for up to 20 hours
Thousands of drivers who were trapped in their vehicles overnight by heavy snow in eastern England are being led to safety.

Drivers stuck on the M11 in Cambridgeshire and Essex since Thursday evening have had to drive the wrong way along the southbound carriageway.

Many drivers abandoned their vehicles on the motorway and police are trying to trace them to collect their cars.

There has been criticism for the lack of gritting on the M11 which is believed to have caused the huge tailbacks.

Patrick Bryant from Spalding
Lorry driver Patrick Bryant provided coffee

But the Highways Agency says heavy traffic prevented its teams from properly spreading grit on the motorway on Thursday afternoon.

The motorway, in Essex and Cambridgeshire between junctions seven and nine, remains effectively closed as police continue clearing the road.

On the northbound carriageway there were 12 jack-knifed lorries, one of which remains stranded across the motorway at junction eight.

An Essex Police spokeswoman said: "We are having a problem with vehicles that have been abandoned by their owners and locked up.

"We would ask for anyone who has abandoned their vehicle on the M11 to call 01245 464222 to identify their vehicle and make arrangements to collect it."

Helping hand

Gritting vehicles are due to start working on the motorway, she said, but the road between junctions seven and nine would not be open for some considerable time.

Many drivers were stuck on the motorway all night.

Military trucks helped some people who took shelter at two emergency centres in Cambridgeshire.

Those remaining on the roads tried to help each other.

Lorry driver Patrick Bryant, of Spalding, Lincolnshire, was on his way to Charlton, south London, got stuck on the M11 near Cambridge at about 1800 GMT on Thursday.

"We always carry food and drink on the lorry in case this sort of thing happens and I've got a kettle," he said on Friday.

"I've been making drinks for other motorists and just trying to stay cheerful and help other people keep cheerful."

Another lorry driver, David Brazier, also stuck on the M11, said: "I'm very, very tired. It's getting to me now."

Airport closed

The weather has caused widespread problems for travellers elsewhere.

Stansted airport was closed until 1500 GMT on Friday.

A British Airports Authority spokeswoman said the reason for the continued closure was that airline and other operational staff could not get to work.

Passengers at Heathrow are still experiencing long delays, while Gatwick is operating as normal.

The weather is likely to improve during Friday, although further snow showers are forecast for the east coast of England.

'Jenny', partner of road gritter
"Like everyone else they got caught in the traffic chaos"
David York, Highways Agency
"Our best practice guidance was followed"
Rebecca Rees, AA
"People have spent the whole night in their cars"
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