Friday, 6 February 2009

Chaos in the snow: Schools and roads close, electricity cut off, house catches fire ...

HEAVY overnight snowfalls brought more chaos to West Somerset today as schools closed, people were unable to travel to work, and many homes lost their electricity.
Up to five inches of snow fell across a wide area in just a few hours, with as much as 20 inches reported in the highest areas, while the windy conditions led to deep drifts.
Buses were cancelled and some roads became impassable while others remained extremely difficult to negotiate.
Electricity supplies were cut off for several hours in the Roadwater area and also in Bishops Lydeard after a series of power outages across Somerset and Devon left Western Power Distribution engineers struggling to keep on top of the situation.
The A396 Dunster to Dulverton road was closed because trees and power lines had been brought down by the weight of snow.
The A358 was impassable at Crowcombe, and the B3190 was closed between Sticklepath and Ralegh’s Cross.
Bus and coach services operated by First, Webberbus, Cooks Coaches, Quantock Motors, Berry’s, South West Coaches, and Stagecoach were all cancelled.
Somerset County Council said staff were working hard to maintain essential services, although many services had been disrupted.
Snow ploughs were on the roads working continuously, with 23 gritters with snow ploughs attached and six additional highway vehicles operating round-the-clock.
Farmers and contractors were also helping clear the roads - helping to shift a total of 1.4 million cubic metres of snow across the county since last night.
In areas of West Somerset where the road conditions were particularly bad, county council staff were using Somerset 4x4 Response - a group of volunteers who assist in emergencies - to visit people needing support.
The county council warned yesterday it had only a week’s supply of salt left, but it was expecting a delivery of 1,500 tonnes today to replenish stocks.
Libraries were closed in Dulverton, Minehead, Williton, Porlock, Wiveliscombe, and Bishops Lydeard, and all mobile libraries and vans were off the road today.
Waste collection crews were unable to reach their depots, meaning all household waste recycling centres were shut and waste or recycling collections were not taking place.
People expecting their collection today were requested to take their waste off the highway and to put it out again for collection on Monday instead.
A total of 184 out of Somerset’s 284 schools were closed today, including the following primary and first schools: Bishops Lydeard, Cannington, Crowcombe, Cutcombe, Cutcombe, Dunster, Exford, Knights Templar, in Watchet, Lydeard St Lawrence, Minehead, Spaxton, St Dubricius, in Porlock, Stogumber, Stogursey, Timberscombe, Wiveliscombe, and also Kingsmead School, in Wiveliscombe.
Minehead and Dulverton were two of only four middle schools in Somerset to stay open, while the West Somerset Community College, in Minehead, was one of just 10 secondary schools in the county to remain open.
The county council said essential services to vulnerable people were being maintained despite the weather conditions and staff were linking with home care agencies to ensure people could be contacted and provided with the necessary support.
Almost all adult social care and learning disability day centres were expected to be closed for the day, although the West Somerset Leisure Centre, in Minehead, was open.
County council staff who were unable to reach their normal place of work were advised to go to their nearest county council facility, where they could be deployed to help maintain essential services.
Both the Crown Court and Magistrates Court in Taunton were closed today because of the weather.
Police urged motorists not to make any non-essential trips anywhere in Somerset or Devon today as the weather had made driving conditions on many roads extremely dangerous.
Those drivers whose journeys were essential were advised to take ‘tremendous care’ and to allow plenty of time for the journey, as well as plenty of space between themselves and the vehicle in front because stopping distances would be greater.
Police said windscreens should be cleared of snow and ice, and the roof should also be cleared because snow could easily slip and obscure the windows.
Motorists were advised to stay on main roads, as they were likely to be easier to navigate, and to routinely test their brakes.
Essential items to carry on any journey included de-icer, food, a hot flask, a blanket, and appropriate footwear and clothing.
Anybody heading for the M5 was advised that a 30 mph speed limit had been imposed at 7.35 am today throughout Somerset.
As if the weather was not bad enough, one family in Rodhuish, near Withycombe, also suffered a fire in their home in the early hours of today which resulted in one person being taken to hospital
The blaze happened just before 6.30 am and when firemen arrived they found the ground floor was filled with smoke.
They used breathing apparatus to rescue one occupant of the property who was suffering from smoke inhalation and required oxygen before being taken by ambulance to Musgrove Park Hospital, Taunton.
The fire was put out with one hose reel jet, and its cause was not yet known.
Forecasts suggested that temperatures would fall this evening, which could result in the snow and slush currently on the roads turning into ice and making them even more hazardous.
Avon and Somerset Police Deputy Chief Constable Rob Beckley said: “All the relevant agencies are working very closely together, supporting each other and putting into place plans to deal with the challenges posed by the wintry weather.
“Public safety is the paramount concern of all the agencies involved and we are doing everything we can to make local residents safe.
“But it is extremely important that local people play their part, too, and only take to the road over the next 24 hours at least, if it is absolutely necessary.
“If the temperatures drop as predicted, and the snow turns to ice, then even those roads which have been treated with salt and grit could become increasingly dangerous.
“Efforts are being made to treat as many roads as possible but clearly the priority must be main arterial routes, and there will undoubtedly be many routes which will not be treated.
“All the agencies within the ‘local resilience forum’ are in regular discussion, sharing resources and ensuring that all critical services are maintained.
“I am very grateful to the staff of all the relevant agencies for all their dedication and professionalism in working so hard to help protect the safety of local residents.
“I would advise people to keep monitoring weather forecasts during the course of the weekend for updates and developments.
“If, and only if, your journey is absolutely necessary, you should take every possible precaution to make it as safe as possible.
“The best possible advice we can give is quite simply do not travel at all during the next 24 hours.”
More sleet and snow was forecast to fall across Exmoor tomorrow as another weather front moved from the Atlantic toward the UK.
Taunton Deane Borough Council said its offices would close at 10 am today, but neighbouring Sedgemoor District Council said more than half of its staff had been able to turn up for work and its offices would stay open until 5 pm.
  • Our photographs show (TOP) snow-covered cars and (BELOW) one of the Western Power Distribution helicopters used for spotting downed electricity cables and transporting engineers to the scene. Photos submitted.

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