A12 and A14 grind to halt in big freeze

RUSH-hour traffic on two of Suffolk's busiest roads was brought to a virtual standstill last night as the big freeze created hazardous driving conditions.

Simon Tomlinson

RUSH-hour traffic on two of Suffolk's busiest roads was brought to a virtual standstill last night as the big freeze created hazardous driving conditions.

Motorists suffered a nightmare journey home on the A12 and A14 as they battled with freezing fog, snow and sheets of ice.

A number of drivers were forced to abandon their cars on the A14 between Seven Hills and Nacton from around 4pm yesterday due to a deep blanket of snow.

Police had to close the eastbound carriageway for more than an hour to assist stranded people and recover the vehicles, some of which were left in ditches.

A spokeswoman for Suffolk police said: “Initially, it came in there were vehicles everywhere, scattered all over the place. The snow is so deep. People are just not getting through.”

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Drivers were urged not to go out unless absolutely necessary.

There were hour-long delays in both directions on the A14 between the Wherstead Interchange and Trimley St Martin. Gritters and snow ploughs were later sent in to clear the route.

That, coupled with an accident near Seven Hills, led to chaos along Felixstowe Road and Nacton Road as Ipswich town centre became gridlocked.

Last night, Guy MacGregor, portfolio holder for transport at Suffolk County Council, was critical of the Government for “”commandeering'' supplies of rock salt leaving the local authority's hands tied.

But Ipswich MP Chris Mole, a junior transport minister with responsibility for strategic routes including trunk roads such as the A12 and A14, said everything was being done in difficult circumstances.

Anna Knights, who works close to the A14 at Ransomes Europark, was sent home to Felixstowe at 4pm, but was still stuck in traffic on the dual carriageway two hours later.

Gerry Friel, from Trimley St Mary, was gridlocked in the Naction Road area. “Everything is at a standstill,” he said.

The ice also made for hellish driving conditions on the A12 at Martlesham.

A spokeswoman for Suffolk County Council said that section had been gritted at 3pm, but promised an “immediate response” to re-treat the area after being informed of the chaos.

Priority one routes were gritted yesterday afternoon and again at 3am this morning with some spot treatments of the priority two roads.

With no end to the blizzards in sight, the emergency services today urged caution over the weekend.

Ambulance bosses were rigorously planning ahead to make sure they would cope with the upsurge in 999 calls.

The East of England Ambulance Service yesterday reported a 90 per cent increase in call-outs for falls and a 50 per cent rise in road accidents.

Visitors to Ipswich Hospital were being asked not to come to most wards on the Heath Road site as it battles to cope with people needing urgent care. Two wards have been closed to new admissions due to the winter sickness bug.

At the West Suffolk Hospital, people due to be admitted or with imminent outpatient appointments were asked not to come if travelling put them at risk.

Patients were also asked to think carefully about the best place to go for treatment.

In Essex, the Chelmsford and Colchester NHS Breast Screening Service was re-opened at The Fryatt Hospital in Dovercourt yesterday after it was closed for two days due to the weather.

Health bosses also moved to re-assure the public that all outpatient clinics were running normal at Colchester General Hospital, Essex County Hospital, Clacton Hospital, Halstead Hospital and The Fryatt Hospital.

Police pleaded with people not to throw snowballs at buildings, vehicles and people because of potential injuries.

Operation Stack was in place for most of the day as the adverse weather conditions prevented Felixstowe port from operating as normal.

Rail services experienced some disruption, but a spokesman said they were holding up well. Some trains were no longer calling between London and Colchester while links to Stansted airport were cancelled

The spokesman warned planned engineering work over the weekend could also cause problems.

Ipswich Town manager Roy Keane also became a victim of the snow after being forced to call off his weekly press conference after getting stuck at his Aldeburgh home.

The East of England Co-op moved to prevent panic-buying by insisting fresh deliveries are continuing to all its stores.

Bin services in the Suffolk Coastal and Waveney district also succumbed to the weather as councils have had to suspend collections.

A number of events were cancelled and venues closed across the county last night.

Suffolk County Council's Emergency Snowline has been extended into the weekend so staff can deal with calls related to the weather conditions, such as social care and highways.

The number is 08456 037686 and will be available on Saturday and Sunday from 9am to 8pm. Ipswich residents should call Ipswich Borough Council's usual out-of-hours number, which is 01473 433444.