Christmas getaway hit by Storm Pia’s strong winds and strikeson December 21, 2023 at 8:24 pm

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High winds and a Eurotunnel strike cause transport misery for thousands trying to travel by rail, road, sea and air.

Euston stationImage source, AFP via Getty Images

Strong winds and strike action have brought misery to tens of thousands of people trying to getaway for Christmas.

The transport disruption across the UK impacted rail, roads, ports and air travel.

All lines to and from London Euston were blocked earlier, while Eurostar and Eurotunnel services were cancelled by a wildcat walkout in France.

Thousands of homes were also left without power by Storm Pia, which brought down power lines in Scotland.

The strongest wind gust was measured at 115mph (185km/h) on the Cairngorm summit in the Highlands.

Lorries were tipped over, trees smashed into houses, and power line damage hit rail services across the country.

Trains at Euston were halted, with hundreds of people stuck on the station concourse, as a faulty train in Buckinghamshire closed all lines. Network Rail said trains began to move again around 15:00.

There were also major queues at nearby London St Pancras, after unexpected strikes in France hit Eurotunnel and Eurostar services, causing further delays on the railways. Eurotunnel confirmed the strike was over in the early evening.

In other rail disruption, a tree fall near Newark affected East Coast services operating out of King’s Cross in London.

Services between London and Scotland on the West Coast mainline were cancelled because of the damage to overhead power lines.

Damage to overhead transmission lines between Macclesfield and Stoke-on-Trent hit rail journeys south and left passengers stranded for hours.

Network Rail reported that a bag had blown onto a transmission line between Stoke and Crewe, halting services until it could be removed.

ScotRail meanwhile placed speed restrictions on some of its services and suspended others, leaving Christmas travellers seeking other routes.

In Northern Ireland, trains were cancelled from Bangor to Belfast due to a fallen tree and operators warned of knock-on disruption to other services.

Planes, trains and automobiles

On the roads, a lorry tipped over at Barton Bridge on the M60 near Manchester, causing long tailbacks.

Lorry tipped over on motorway

Image source, Dr Sarah Powell

And the storm hit airports across the UK – Manchester, Heathrow, Glasgow and Leeds-Bradford all saw some flights delayed or cancelled.

At Birmingham Airport, footage showed one plane being badly buffeted as it struggled to land in high winds.

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Chris McCabe was one of those affected after Eurostar and LeShuttle services were suspended due to what Eurostar called a “last-minute” strike by Eurotunnel workers.

“There are about 500 people stuck past security waiting. That is all they are saying and no-one knows whether to leave or stay,” he told the BBC from St Pancras International, adding there are “no real communications”.

By late afternoon, Eurostar said it would not run any European rail services to or from London St Pancras for the rest of the day – cancelling 30 trains. But soon after, Eurotunnel announced that the strike was over.

It is as yet unclear when traffic will resume in the tunnel.

The Port of Dover warned of 90-minute delays for passengers clearing French border control.

Anyone heading to the Kent site to catch a cross-Channel ferry was being urged not to turn up without a valid ticket or a transfer voucher issued by Eurotunnel.

Storm Pia hit as many tried to beat the Christmas rush that begins Friday and Saturday, when the roads are expected to be extremely busy.

Millions of people are booked on flights to spend Christmas overseas – Heathrow alone expects 6.5 million passengers to travel through its terminals this month. Friday will be the busiest day for departures.

The RAC estimates 21 million drivers will make a trip before Christmas Eve – 20% busier than last year – meaning probable delays on the roads.

Many areas of the UK experienced gusts of up to 60mph (100km/h), along with heavy rain.

Tree falls into a house

Earlier, Northumberland and the Shetland Islands recorded gusts of 80mph (129km/h). The strong wind forced schools in Shetland to close and damaged power lines.

The Met Office, which tweeted the Cairngorm summit gust speed, said that a yellow weather warning for snow and ice will begin for Shetland at 15:00, lasting until 10:00 Saturday.

A further snow and ice warning for northern Scotland begins at 21:00 on Friday, lasting until 12:00 on Saturday.

Power cuts hit other areas of Scotland, including the islands and parts of Dumfries and Galloway, while the A83 in Argyll and Bute was shut due to an HGV toppling on its side.

In England, Burton-upon-Trent, Matlock, Mansfield and Nottingham were affected by power cuts, although services were restored for many within hours.

Northern Powergrid said 40,000 households had suffered disruption to supplies in the North East, Yorkshire and northern Lincolnshire, but more than half had been reconnected by the afternoon.

Multiple tree falls were reported around Derbyshire and Nottingham. One man was taken to hospital after a tree fell onto his car in Clifton, although his injuries are not believed to be life-threatening.

Lee Mason’s house in the Derbyshire village of Stanley was damaged when a 60-tonne tree collapsed early on Thursday.

A man standing in front of his home which a tree crashed into

His son Guy was in bed when the 35m tree went through his bedroom window, he said, adding it sounded like an earthquake.

The family escaped safely but must now deal with the aftermath, days before Christmas.

Mr Mason said he felt fortunate everyone got out unscathed.

Simon King, BBC weather presenter and meteorologist, said the weather will remain blustery with spells of rain in the run up to Christmas, although the strongest winds will ease by Friday.

Christmas Day will also be rainy in southern areas and Scotland – but there may be snow over higher ground and a technical “white Christmas” for some, he said.

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