LONDON (Reuters) - Heavy snow caused chaos across a swathe of Britain as councils said they were running out of grit to keep roads open and forecasters predicted fresh flurries for southern England during the Friday morning rush hour.
Airport runways were closed, hospital operations cancelled and bus and rail services hit as up to six inches of snow fell across the Midlands, South Wales, northeast England and Scotland.
The Automobile Association said a road safety crisis was developing on many roads and pavements because of a shortage of salt.
“With weather forecasts showing another four or five days of freezing temperatures and snow ... many roads will become death traps,” it said.
Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon said there was only so much that local authorities could do in the severest winter weather for 18 years.
“We cannot expect to keep every side road right across the country open given the very serious weather conditions we have faced over the last few days,” he told BBC television.
He said the Highways Agency was putting 25,000 tonnes of salt on main roads a day, while producers could only deliver 30,000 tonnes a week.
“Clearly, if the weather continues to be difficult as it has been in the past few days then we are putting down on to the roads far more salt than can physically be produced by the suppliers,” he said.
He said the Agency was holding five days reserve of salt, although that had reduced to four days in areas where supplies had been given to councils running short.
The Local Government Association said council reserves of grit had been “massively depleted” and that some local authorities would be forced to prioritise which roads to keep clear.
“In some parts of the country the prolonged exceptionally cold weather has meant that more grit has been deposited on roads in the last four days than in the whole of last year’s winter,” it said.
Many flights were delayed or cancelled at Luton, Birmingham, East Midlands and Aberdeen airports after they closed their runways for a period in the early morning for snow clearing.
The Met Office said further heavy snowfalls were forecast to hit London and the southeast on Friday, with wintry showers seen continuing to fall across the country over the weekend.
Up to 2 inches of snow could fall in London during the Friday morning rush hour, with as much as eight inches falling on higher ground in the southeast, a Met Office spokesman said.
Editing by Steve Addison