Sunday, 19 November 2017

Ghost town in white shroud

SNOW brought Henley and South Oxfordshire to a virtual standstill on Friday.

SNOW brought Henley and South Oxfordshire to a virtual standstill on Friday.

Schools and many businesses were shut and there was disruption on the roads as up to four inches fell within the space of a few hours.

There was a number of minor accidents and dozens of calls were made to the ambulance service as drivers were warned not to make any unnecessary journeys.

Public transport was disrupted with rail and bus services delayed or cancelled and bin collections were suspended with about a quarter of them not made.

The disruption continued to a lesser degree on Monday with more school closures following light snowfall for most of the previous day and freezing overnight temperatures. There was more snow on Tuesday evening and on Wednesday.

Thanks to advance warnings, many people had decided to stay at home when the heavy snow began on Friday morning and Henley was soon deserted as staff left work early and parents picked up children from schools, which closed early.

There were queues on all routes out of the town and drivers were delayed for up to four hours on the road between Henley and Caversham after a collision involving two cars between Shiplake and Playhatch. A number of vehicles was abandoned in the snow.

Standard reporter James Burton, who was riding his Honda scooter home when he was caught up in the chaos, said conditions were “lethal”.

He said: “I got nearly as far as the Flowing Spring pub. You could see the road surface very clearly but under an inch thick of ice. It was like a skating rink so I got off my bike and pushed. In the end it got so bad that I had to leave my bike in a lay-by. I was very lucky that someone pulled over and offered me a lift.”

Remenham Hill also clogged up as many drivers heading out of Henley were forced to turn back due to the depth of snow.

Geoff Whiting, who was on his way to Hurley, said: “It was really scary and dangerous trying to get up the hill.

“My car is normally quite good at handling the snow and ice but looking at the people in front of me sliding all over the place, I decided to give up and turn around.

“In the end, I had to go via Sonning, which took ages.”

Schools which closed early on Friday included Gillotts and Valley Road and Sacred Heart primaries in Henley as well as Peppard, Crazies Hill, Benson, Sonning Common and Nettlebed primaries, Piggott School in Wargrave and Chiltern Edge School in Sonning Common.

The Henley College cancelled all classes and only stayed open for timetabled exams. It remained closed on Monday as did Badgemore School and Sonning Common Primary.

Gillotts School was also shut on Monday following the breakdown of its heating system but was back to normal on Tuesday.

Karen Edwards, headteacher at Sacred Heart School, said: “Break time on Friday was fabulous as the children were allowed to play in the snow.

“We had various snowmen and other creatures, including a snow caterpillar. It was all very creative.”

Hannah Wilson, whose son Roman, seven, is a pupil at the school, said: “It was decided to close the school at midday but most of the kids had gone by then as their parents picked them up, thinking it was better to get them home sooner rather than later.” Town council staff cleared snow in Henley on Friday and used grit provided by Oxfordshire County Council on important streets and pavements.

They were led by parks supervisor Karl Newman and were helped on Saturday by 10 volunteers from Henley Lions Club.

Town clerk Mike Kennedy said: “We were able to go into smaller residential roads and help people, particularly those on a hill. There was a number of SOS calls that were answered.”

There was a similar operation in Sonning Common, with a team of nine volunteers led by parish councillor Dirk Jones.

There was some evidence of panic-buying as shoppers stocked up on basics such as milk and bread as well as salt, shovels and firewood.

Tony Stevens, manager of the Henley self-service petrol station in Reading Road, said: “On Friday and Saturday morning people were buying everything — snow shovels, screen wash, hats and gloves, de-icer, coal, firewood and kindling.

“We had got extra stuff in and had planned for it but I didn’t expect us to be so busy. I sold 10 sledges in three hours.

“People were also coming in and saying they were filling up their car in case it snowed.” CMP Motor Parts in Reading Road, Henley, sold almost all of its stock of 50 snow shovels.

Owner Iain Ryan said: “I have also been selling the big bags of ice melt, a lot of car batteries and jump leads, logs, coal and kindling — and doing quite a lot of repeat business, which is great.” He said he regretted not having any sledges to sell, adding: “I missed a trick there.”

Autolex Car Accessories in Friday Street stayed open on Friday while nearby shops closed and sold around 400 sledges between then and Monday.Manager Kevin Payne said: “It has mainly been adults coming in and picking up sledges for their kids.

“We have also been selling snow shovels, socks and tyre chains. We always expect it to be busy when the weather turns cold.”

Temperatures dropped to -2C during Friday night and remained around or below zero all weekend as light snow fell and ungritted side roads and minor routes remained icy.

The Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading resumed normal service on Monday but advised patients to allow extra time for travel.

South Central Ambulance Service received a total of 3,968 calls from across the Thames Valley between midnight on Friday and 7pm on Sunday, a large increase on the previous week. The number of calls related to falls was 740 and the number to road accidents was 92.

South Oxfordshire District Council said that garden waste that wasn’t collected on Friday would be collected on Friday, February 1.

The forecast is for freezing fog tonight (Friday) and tomorrow morning and for warmer weather on Sunday and Monday, although temperatures are expected to drop below zero at night.

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