February 6, 2009 / 4:08 PM / 10 years ago

Weekend warning in Britain for yet more snow

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - More snow is on the way to Britain this weekend, the country’s weather forecasting Met Office warned on Friday, after blizzard conditions caused widespread travel chaos across the country.

A monk walks through the snow covered Richmond Park in London February 3, 2009. REUTERS/Stephen Hird

Emergency services launched a major operation overnight to rescue drivers who became stranded in southwest England, as heavy snow blocked roads.

Central England was also badly hit as the coldest snap for 20 years showed no sign of easing.

Major roads and rail routes were shut, schools closed and planes at some airports were grounded, amid reports local authorities were running low on gritting salt.

Flights at Luton and Bristol airports were suspended until later on Friday.

Both road bridges over the River Severn linking England and Wales were closed because of ice falling from the overhead gantries.

The Highways Agency repeated its warning that people should not travel unless they had to, and if they did travel to check conditions before setting out.

Emergency services rescued about 200 motorists stranded overnight in heavy snow near Exeter in Devon.

“It was the sudden snowfall yesterday evening that caught everybody by surprise,” said a spokesman for Devon and Cornwall police.

Army teams and members of the Dartmoor Rescue Group were drafted in to help. Drivers were taken to rest centers overnight around Exeter and Okehampton.

“It was really scary — to be stuck on my own in the car once the battery had gone. It was dark and it was cold,” motorist Alison Starkey told Sky TV.

The Local Government Association said on Thursday council reserves of grit had been “massively depleted” and that some local authorities would be forced to prioritize which roads to keep clear.

Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon said the Highways Agency would concentrate on major roads and there was a limit to what councils could do, or how much salt producers could deliver.

But the Conservatives said the government had failed to put proper emergency plans in place.

“It is alarming that we face a grit shortage as the country has to contend with more snow and freezing weather,” said Shadow Transport Secretary Theresa Villiers.

“If grit starts to run out, this will have deeply worrying implications for road safety as well as leading to gridlock for those trying to get to work.”

The Met Office is forecasting further snow falls over the weekend and into next week, with weather warnings for icy conditions in place across much of Britain.

Reporting by Stefano Ambrogi and Michael Holden; Editing by Steve Addison and Paul Casciato

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