More traffic chaos as 'snow front' hits Westcountry hard
The Westcountry suffered another day of major disruption yesterday as heavy snowfall brought many parts of the region to a standstill.
For the second day in a row – after the hail and ice which brought misery for motorists along the A38 corridor in East Cornwall and South Devon – travel on all but the main routes was almost impossible.
Overnight, 30 people were forced to spend the night in Nether Stowey village hall after being rescued by police when they became stranded in their cars on the A39 between Bridgwater and Williton in Somerset.
And as dawn broke, it was North and East Devon which were hardest hit with snow lying more than a foot deep in places, effectively cutting off some communities accessed by untreated roads.
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Dozens of schools had to be closed while highways teams struggled to keep some key roads open to traffic.
Hugh Griffith, highway operations control centre manager for Devon County Council, said the "snow front" which had tracked across the county during the night and into the morning was "hitting us quite hard".
"We did have a problem on the North Devon link road between Tiverton and Barnstaple," he said. "At one point we had to close the road and stack the lorries near Tiverton so we could clear it and get it going again.
"Later we had a massive snow shower around Ilfracombe and Lynton, in that north corner of Devon. It came off the moor and threw down a lot of snow so we had to get some ploughs and diggers up there as well.
"At about 9am we had a very heavy snow shower from Ashcombe down to Kingsteignton and the A380 was down to one lane for a while."
By lunchtime, problems were mounting in East Devon with heavy snow flurries in the Axminster, Honiton, Seaton and Sidmouth areas.
The A39 at County Gate was also impassable while the B3223 at Simonsbath was closed overnight because of drifting snow.
The A35 at Honiton had to be closed temporarily at 12.15pm following a four-vehicle crash on the eastbound carriageway although there were no reports of any injuries.
Similarly the A3052 at Sidford, near Sidmouth, was blocked for an hour by a heavy goods vehicle which was unable to move on the snowbound road.
Devon and Cornwall Police also reported accidents at Cheriton Bishop, where a car crashed and rolled onto its side, and at Woodbury Common, near Exeter, where a car skidded off the road and crashed into the trees.
The 29-year-old driver, from Exmouth, was taken to hospital with head and back injuries although they are not thought to be serious.
Then at 3pm, the emergency services were called to Fairmile, near Ottery St Mary, where a BMW had spun on the snow and collided with a fence. No-one was hurt.
By the early afternoon, police were warning drivers in East Devon "not to travel unless absolutely necessary".
"Snow is still falling in the area, making driving conditions extremely hazardous and motorists have been advised only to make essential journeys," a spokesman said.
"Road conditions are said to be difficult anywhere east of Honiton – particularly on the A375 Honiton to Sidmouth Road and the A3052 in the Seaton area. Officers have dealt with a number of minor collisions."
No issues, however, were reported on either Haldon Hill, on the A38 near Exeter, or Telegraph Hill, on the A380 to Torbay, which have suffered major winter weather problems in the past.
A "snow plan", which was instituted after hundreds of motorists were stuck on the road for several hours following sudden blizzards in 2010, had "worked very well", Mr Griffith said.
The severe conditions did, though, result in the closure of more than 30 primary and secondary schools, mainly in the north and east of the county, giving hundreds of pupils an unexpected day off.
Others delayed opening or closed early to help students and staff get home safely.
Council services in both areas were hit with rubbish and recycling collections being cancelled in the worst affected areas.
East Devon District Council leader Paul Diviani, who lives close to the A303 near Yarcombe, said there was about 18 inches (450mm) of snow on the ground. He added: "When you get this amount of snow there is not much you can do to ameliorate it."