Britain suffered a fifth day of transport chaos today as heavy snow forced thousands of schools to close again as roads were blocked, trains cancelled and airports shut.

Giant falling sheets of ice on the Severn crossings joining England and Wales smashed car windscreens this morning, prompting both bridges to be closed.

Hundreds of drivers in Devon had to be rescued after becoming stranded during the blizzards overnight and today, and many roads were still closed or impassable.

The AA was receiving more than 250 breakdown calls every 15 minutes. It said its staff will have handled 70,000 call-outs in the past five days by tonight.

  • Severn bridges close due to falling ice
  • Roads treacherous as grit stocks run low
  • Airports closed, trains and buses cancelled
  • Couple saved from ditch in Cornwall after 7 hours
  • 21,000 homes without power in West Country

One couple whose car slid into a ditch in Cornwall were trapped for seven hours before they were freed this lunchtime, by which point they had mild hypothermia.
Britain Jan 2009 Snow
© Sam Furlong / SWNS.COMAt a standstill: Traffic backed up on the A417 in Cheltenham as snow falls

In the West Country, one of the areas worst hit by the latest bout of bad weather, there was more misery after more than 20,000 homes suffered power-cuts.

Up to eight inches of snow fell in places last night and this morning, forcing Stansted, Luton and Bristol Airports to close and rail and bus services to be cancelled.

As much as 1ft fell in places, aggravating the already treacherous conditions on the roads due to black ice and a lack of grit.

Roads blocked by the snow near Exeter overnight - where more than 200 people had to be rescued from their cars - were only partially reopened by mid-afternoon.
Britain Jan 2009 Snow
© SWNS.COMClosed: Queues ahead of the Severn Bridge today after it was closed because of falling sheets of ice which smashed several windscreens

The Army had to help police in the rescue mission yesterday evening because conditions were so difficult.

Using 4x4s they managed to rescue the majority of motorists but some had to sleep in their vehicles as the temperature plummeted.

Also in Devon, one woman in labour with twins had to be rescued by a fire engine just before midnight after an ambulance and Sea King helicopter failed to reach her.

The snow was so heavy the helicopter was forced to turn back and only a fire engine fitted with snow chains could get through.

She later gave birth to healthy twin girls in hospital.
Britain Jan 2009 Snow
© Press AssociationDanger: People try to push a car which slipped on the ice in Totterdown, Bristol, back onto the road as lorries are parked nose to tail

Britain Jan 2009 Snow
© Press AssociationSnow bound: Another road in Totterdown, Bristol, this morning

Travel chaos then spread this morning as yet more snow fell, with up to eight inches reported in places, particularly in the southern counties.

Bath, Bristol, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Plymouth, Swindon, Torbay and Wiltshire were all badly affected and the transport network paralysed again:
  • The Highways Agency urged people to avoid travelling in south western England unless absolutely necessary. It closed the two Severn Bridges because of falling sheets of ice;
  • The A470, the main route between north and south Wales, was shut south of Brecon;
  • Stansted Airport closed its runway for an hour so that staff could clear the runway, causing delays;
  • Luton Airport cancelled all in and out-bound flights until 1pm and Bristol Airport was closed until 4pm and must now try and clear the backlog of flights waiting to depart from the south-west;
  • Virgin Trains, Scotrail, London Midland, First Great Western and Chiltern Railways were among rail services warning of cancellations and delays;
  • Bus operator Stagecoach recalled all its vehicles in Northamptonshire and Arriva suspended its services in Hertfordshire.
Britain Jan 2009 Snow
© Mark SutherlandStuck: The police and the Army worked through the night to clear the cars

Britain Jan 2009 Snow
© SWNSSafe: Some of the rescued drivers spent the night at Exeter Racecourse

More than 3,000 schools were closed across England and Wales and many workers were forced to take yet another day off work.

In Cambridgeshire, some families dropping their children off for school were told they could take them home again because teachers had not arrived.

Luton Borough Council issued an official warning telling people not to go into the city unless absolutely necessary because snow was falling faster than it could grit.
Britain Jan 2009 Snow
© SWNSShelter: One driver warms up at Exeter Racecourse after getting stuck

Dangerous driving conditions were reported across much of the South, including the M5 and M4 in Wiltshire and Berkshire and in Bristol.

The Highways Agency closed the Severn Bridges at 10am for 'safety reasons' because of falling ice.

Sheets up to a metre square fell from overhead sign gantries and smashed the windscreens of five vehicles, according to bridge operators Severn River Crossing Plc. No one was hurt.

One lane in either direction on the M48 bridge was re-opened again at 3.30pm but the M4 crossing was still shut.

Across the country, maintenance teams with gritters and snow ploughs were once again battling to clear the roads amid warnings they are becoming 'death traps' because of low grit supplies.

Councils are already dangerously close to running out and eight have said they can only grit major roads.

With temperatures dropping as low as minus 8c (17.6f), this means many smaller routes will be left icy and treacherous.

Drivers in Devon who were stranded overnight were only returning to their vehicles this morning and faced another battle to make it home.

They were caught on the A38 and A380 south of Exeter in the evening as the snow came in. Dozens of others were stuck on the A386 near Tavistock.

Police and the army battled to free them from their vehicles and took them to make-shift rescue centres where they spent the night.
Britain Jan 2009 Snow
© Press AssociationWrapped up: A family make their way to school in Cambridgeshire but were told they could go home again because staff had failed to make it in

Britain Jan 2009 Snow
© SWNSDeluge: A driver tries to dig snow out of the way in Bristol this morning as fresh blizzards brought traffic to a standstill

Receptionist Sue Rolfe, 56, was forced to leave her car and walk to The Exeter Court hotel where she works after police closed off the road.

During the rescue, she said: 'Everyone is stuck. It's chaos. It's still snowing very hard. It's come down so quickly.'

Lucy Johnson said: 'I was driving back about 10pm last night and it was horrific. I've never driven in anything like it before in my life and hope to never drive in anything like it again. Cars were skidding off the road. It was coming down so heavily you could barely see.

'In front of me I could just make out all the flashing lights and realised something was wrong and got off the motorway at the next slip road. I still don't know how I am going to get home. My car is stuck and I am stranded.'
Britain Jan 2009 Snow
© Ross Parry SyndicationChilly: Deer in the blizzards at Studley Royal in Ripon, Yorkshire

Britain Jan 2009 Snow
© Michael TraillDrifts: A snow plough clears the roads in Aberdeenshire

Chairman of Chudleigh town council, Douglas Laing, where one rescue centre was set up, said the situation was 'mayhem'.

'It's been an incredible night. The whole community is pulling together, the bread shop was up early to start baking and have brought us bread for breakfast, the newsagents are supplying bacon and milk,' he said.

'The spirit amongst everyone is good but a lot of people are very tired now and would like to go home.'

Exeter Racecourse clerk Barry Johnson trudged three miles uphill through the snow to open it as an emergency shelter for people being rescued.

'Everyone's been quite jovial. It was such a freak event it took us by surprise. I have heard nobody moan at all but they all want to go home now,' he said.

Alan Mobbs from Decon and Cornwall Police added: 'People are very cold, and quite wet. Anyone who has been rescued was very, very pleased to see us, and they are being taken to the reception centres.'

The A38 and A380 were both still closed this morning as well as parts of the A30, causing huge problems for anyone else trying to travel.

Sergeant Olly Taylor said the situation across the county is still 'critical': 'There are a large number of abandoned cars, we can't say how many at the moment.

'There has been no serious injuries, people here are in good humour and very understanding of the situation.'

Councils are battling dwindling supplies of gritting salt as they try to keep roads safe.

With forecasters warning they could yet be more snow on Sunday and Monday, several local authorities are on the verge of running out of rocksalt.

By last night, eight had already said they were prioritising main roads because they had so little left.

Many local authorities have ordered more stocks but deliveries have failed to arrive or have been much smaller than needed as the country's main salt supplier struggles to cope with demand.
Britain Jan 2009 Snow
© Met OfficeBlizzard: A satellite image shows the weather system above the UK at 7am this morning on the fifth day of disruption due to snow and ice

Meanwhile, two teenagers were recovering after narrowly escaping death when they sledged down a hill and plummeted off a 100ft sheer drop.

The pair, who have not been named, were only saved by thick bushes and undergrowth at the bottom of the vertical drop which cushioned their fall.

They were trapped for four hours in sub-zero temperatures after the plunge on Dunstable Downs in Bedfordshire yesterday but only suffered minor injuries and hypothermia.

Ambulance spokesman Gary Sanderson said: 'Luckily they landed in shrubbery and gorse that softened their fall and essentially saved their lives.

'It was very difficult to get to the sledgers and it took ambulance and fire crews around four an a half hours to get them out of the incredibly treacherous conditions.'