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Friday, 19 September 2014

Tynedale: ‘Stay in,’ say police as blizzards rage

BLIZZARD conditions, ice and freezing fog across the district have made travelling conditions treacherous on the district’s roads.

Police in Hexham dealt with almost 30 calls for help following weather-related accidents in the 24 hours from 6am on Monday.

Such was the impact of the snow across the region that Northumbria Police set up a special incident room at its Ponteland headquarters, to monitor road conditions and allocate resources.

And while the snow storms were at their worst, motorists were being urged not to take to the roads unless absolutely necessary.

West Tynedale Neighbourhood Inspector Kevin Oates, said: “From very early on Monday morning it became clear that the conditions were extremely hazardous.

“Gritter teams had been out working around the clock across the weekend, but the snow appeared to be coming down faster than they could keep up with.

“Often, in the more rural areas, we get a lot of help from local farmers who take to the roads with their tractors and help clear some of the worst affected areas.”

Among the first problems reported on Monday was on the A696 at Otterburn where a wagon and a bus had become stranded, two miles south of the village.

A Renault Megane overturned and slid down an embankment on the east-bound carriage way of the A69 near Hexham’s Bridge End roundabout at 11.20am the same day.

And just a few minutes later, on the Military Road near Great Whittington, a tanker carrying fertiliser came off the road.

From Monday afternoon and throughout Tuesday, the A68 at Stagshaw in Corbridge was closed, as was a section further north, between Byrness and Carter Bar on the Scottish Border.

“Luckily, there were no reports of serious injuries. but it did get to the point were the advice we were giving was not to travel unless absolutely necessary,” said Insp. Oates.

“Even though the worst now appears to be over, we will continue to monitor weather forecasts and conditions and have officers on the roads and in our communities.”

The A69 near Haltwhistle was blocked by two separate jack-knifed lorries on Tuesday morning.

The first went out of control at 4am while it was travelling east, but was recovered quickly.

Three hours later, a DAF HGV travelling west jack-knifed near the junction with the B6322 at Tyne View Road and caused traffic to back up until it was moved.

Later that morning, the A68 at Kiln Pit Hill had to be closed when the deteriorating conditions were compounded by fallen trees blocking the road – a situation which was repeated on Wednesday morning when another fallen tree closed the A68 at Riding Mill.

The A696 at Knowesgate and the A686 at Alston have also been subject to weather-related road closures this week.

Meanwhile, groups of residents have joined forces across the district to clear footpaths and use salt from hundreds of grit bins to spread on routes through housing estates and minor roads in a bid to keep traffic moving.

But in Prudhoe’s Paddock Wood, it appeared concerted efforts by residents to clear a path through the snow for cars were scuppered by Northumberland County Council’s own snow ploughs.

One resident described how, on Tuesday, neighbours pulled together to dig out their driveways and a section of the road, creating a track.

But around midday a snow plough arrived, covering the track with snow again and blocking in the properties once more.

The resident said: “It caused quite a bit of trouble.

“Whatever setting the plough was on, it just filled in the track!

“I know Northumberland County Council was trying to do its best, but it’s a shame the driver couldn’t have taken the initiative and realised the residents here were coping.”

A spokesman for the county council said the authority, which is responsible for stocking 1,600 grit bins across Northumberland, actively encouraged residents to assist themselves.

He added: “In some areas voluntary groups of snow squads have been set up with parish councils to help maintain access in and around their villages.”

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