Britain paralysed by big freeze

 

Widespread travel chaos caused by some of the severest winter weather for a century left Christmas commuter plans in tatters and swathes of Britain paralysed today.

Delays and cancellations at UK airports continued to hit thousands of passengers, while plummeting overnight temperatures left almost the entire road network caked in treacherous black ice.

After shutting yesterday, Heathrow said it would not be letting any flights land on its runway, with only a “handful” of departures taking place, pouring misery on hundreds of stranded people who were forced to spend the night in terminals.

Gatwick Airport reopened after planes were grounded for large period of yesterday, but widespread disruption was expected with officials advising passengers to check with their airline before travelling.

Stansted, Luton, Exeter, London City, Aberdeen, Birmingham, Bristol, Southampton, Cardiff and Birmingham airports also said flights would be subject to delays and cancellations.

A spokeswoman for Heathrow, which experienced temperatures of minus 5.2C overnight, said: “Heathrow Airport will not be accepting arrivals on Sunday, and will only manage a handful of departures as our airfield team continues to deal with the impacts of yesterday’s bad weather and prepares the airport for a full reopening on Monday.

“We are extremely sorry for the disruption this will cause to passengers and airlines and we stress that passengers must check with their airlines before travelling to the airport. We will provide regular updates.

“We have listened carefully to the advice of our airside operations team and have reluctantly judged that while Heathrow’s northern runway remains clear, the change in temperature overnight has led to a significant build-up of ice on parking stands around the planes and this requires the airfield to remain closed until it is safe to move planes around.”

The airport said several hundred people were working to treat airside areas and keep passengers in the terminal as warm and comfortable as possible.

“Safety is our first priority and we hope this course of action will allow us to offer a fuller service to passengers and airlines using Heathrow tomorrow,” added the spokeswoman.

Forecasters said the UK was hit by abnormally low temperatures overnight, with most parts of the country struggling to get over minus 5 degrees.

The mercury dropped to minus 19 degrees in Pershore in the Midlands, and minus 14 degrees in Chesham, Buckinghamshire, while fresh snow fell in eastern England and Scotland.

Snow was today expected in northern and eastern Scotland and north-east England, with the Met Office issuing severe weather warnings.

Commuters were also warned of widespread icy roads in Wales, north-west England, the Midlands and the South.

Weather experts said temperatures would struggle to rise above freezing, meaning large accumulations of snow, which left many people stuck in their homes yesterday, would fail to clear.

Chaos was again expected on the roads and on rail networks today with the freeze showing little sign of relenting.

Agencies