Page last updated at 17:52 GMT, Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Snow hits Hampshire and Berkshire

M4 traffic at the Reading services on Monday with large tail-backs (pic: Ben Elliott)
Motorists reported being delayed for several hours on the M4

Motorists and commuters in Hampshire and Berkshire continued to face travel chaos on Tuesday after heavy snow caused treacherously icy roads.

At the height of the gridlock on Monday evening, at least 2,000 motorists were stranded in Basingstoke, and many more spent hours stuck on the M3 and M4.

More than 400 vehicles remain abandoned around the town.

Work to reconnect 1,000 homes without power in Basingstoke and Alton was ongoing on Tuesday evening.

On Tuesday morning, 5,000 households had been cut off when cables were brought down by heavy snow.

Southern Electric said it had had serious problems getting staff out on roads to rectify the problem, adding it was hiring in specialist equipment.

Following the chaos on Monday evening, 80 people had to spend the night in five rescue centres.

An ambulance left in the snow in Hampshire
Hundreds of vehicles were abandoned including an ambulance

Drivers booked out all of the hotels in Basingstoke, with strangers sleeping side-by-side on the floor of the Red Lion Hotel in Red Lion Lane.

Manager Mark Nicholson said he had about 30 to 40 people staying in the bar.

"There were quite a lot of elderly people, some people just went out to get a few things but were then stuck and couldn't get back home."

The heavy snowfall caught commuters by surprise when it moved in quickly during the evening rush-hour on Monday.

Motorists on the M3 in Hampshire and M4 in Berkshire spent up to 10 hours stuck in traffic and people caught in the delays were using social-networking site Twitter to update family and friends.

One man, beanheadblue, said: "Put my ski gear on and went and rescued my wife on M3, just got back and my legs are hurting."

Another user, herrylaw, added: "Stuck in appalling conditions on the roads: covered in snow with ice beneath. Three hour delays in the M3."

Hampshire Constabulary advised motorists to avoid the area if possible.

Operations cancelled

Supt Andy Stewart told BBC News: "There was a measure of mayhem yesterday afternoon in Basingstoke, where roughly 2,000 motorists were stranded.

"Some people were able to park sensibly, others had to abandon their vehicles in some difficult positions, and the road came to gridlock."

He said "a number of factors" contributed to the chaos, and as traffic slowed in the snow and ice, "one or minor incidents can cause things to back up".

A large number of Christmas shoppers, coupled with people leaving work at the same time meant extra traffic, he said, adding that conditions were now easing.

Tom Hepworth reports from Basingstoke

Edmund King, of the AA, said many essential roads had not been gritted but Hampshire County Council said gritting lorries had worked continuously to treat roads.

West Berkshire Council said gritters had tackled nearly 450 miles (720km) of tarmac.

Mr King said: "[There was] no grit on roads that actually linked with the ring road, and I was actually there yesterday and skidding all over the place".

Transport Minister Sadiq Khan said he would be "asking questions" about the difficulties around Basingstoke and Reading.

Meanwhile, Southampton Airport opened on Tuesday morning but passengers were being advised to check with their airlines and allow extra time to travel.

Royal Berkshire Hospital issued a warning to people not to attend unless they required "vital emergency treatment" and all elective operations were cancelled.

West Berkshire Community Hospital also cancelled all routine outpatient appointments.

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