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The day we all ground to a halt

PUBLISHED: 10:39 05 February 2009 | UPDATED: 10:26 23 August 2010

I GOT YOU BABE: Caroline Asher and baby Layla build a snowman in Harmer Street, Gravesend

I GOT YOU BABE: Caroline Asher and baby Layla build a snowman in Harmer Street, Gravesend

Back in 1984 the weather conditions were as bad as this, if not worse, and London buses still ran, we ploughed on through some terrible conditions. Why this time were the buses stopped? It s absolutely appalling. This is the verdict of former London bu

Back in 1984 the weather conditions were as bad as this, if not worse, and London buses still ran, we ploughed on through some terrible conditions. Why this time were the buses stopped? It's absolutely appalling."

This is the verdict of former London bus driver Jim Halford, 59, of London Road, Swanley, who worked on the capitals buses for more than 30 years.

On Monday the heaviest snow fall in nearly two decades covered north Kent and south east London in six to eight inches of snow, paralysing the public transport networks and leaving many people stranded and unable to work.

For the first time in living memory, London buses which even ran during the Blitz, were suspended for the day, leaving more than six million people stranded across the capital.

Buses in Gravesend and Dartford continued, as 63 gritting lorries in Kent took to the roads overnight on Sunday and early on Monday morning. Southeastern trains, which operates train services into London from north Kent suspended all services, and ten out of 11 tube lines were affected.

Many battled on despite the blizzard conditions, others took advantage of a day off from work or school but everyone questioned why the UK ground to a halt in the worst snowfall for 18 years. Mr Halford, who now works for a private bus company, said he was "livid" that the London buses were suspended for the day. If the bus drivers in Kent can drive buses in bad weather, then why can't bus drivers in London get through it, gritting in the capital is going to be far more efficient than in Kent? I have been driving buses for years, and when I worked as a London bus driver I drove through all types of weather conditions. I drove the old Routemasters, and we wouldn't let snowfall stop us. If the bus service stops, the whole capital stops. It's health and safety gone way too far. A bit of snow and all the bus drivers are in the canteens. In this day and age we should be able to cope with weather like this. I am livid at the decision they made." The snow storm, which swept in from Russia, also brought misery to thousands in Longfield and New Barn residents who were left without power after lightning struck an electricity pylon.

Many described hearing a loud bang, and seeing a bright white light before their power cut out.

Maggie Grimmond, manager of McColls newsagent in Wrotham Road, Meopham, was working at the time of the thunder bolt, yards from the shop. It was the loudest bang I have ever heard. The whole place lit up, there was just this really bright white light.

"The ground shook, we didn't know what it was at first. It totally came out of the blue. Then we had a complete black out. The whole of the village was in darkness, no street lights or anything. It would have been pretty dangerous if you were out on the roads."

Betty Sutton, 81, Greenfinches, New Barn, said her power was still off at midday on Tuesday. "I heard a big explosion, and a red light came into my lounge, I thought it was kids messing around with fireworks at first so I gingerly opened the curtains. I was terrified.

"I have got no heating and no lighting, and it goes freezing cold. I hope the power isn't off for much longer. I have drawn all of my curtains to keep the heat in.

"It must have been some sort of electrical storm, it was very unusual. I hope I never see anything like it again."

Jeremy Kite, leader of Darford Borough Council and also resident of New Barn, said he had to sleep through the night with no heating.

Volunteers from the Red Cross arrived in Longfield on Monday to ensure residents without power were coping with the cold weather.

Mr Kite, said: "I have lived through some big snow storms in my time and this definitely compares to them.

"It was an extremely cold night, with no heating, I actually had to sleep in my clothes it was that bad. I have lived here for more than 30 years and I have never known a power cut like it. It was like we were back in the dark ages."

Planes were grounded at Biggin Hill airport, as well as Heathrow and City airport. London ambulance service was only responding to life threatening calls. Red Cross volunteers were drafted in to support the South East Coast Ambulance Service.

Town centre shops across north Kent and south east London closed early on Monday to let staff members get home, after police warned motorists not to travel on the roads unless it was essential.

Hospitals in the area also suffered, with operations and clinic appointments cancelled at the Princess Royal University Hospital, Farnborough, Orpington Hospital and Beckenham Beacon.

Although services were not affected at Darent Valley Hospital, their patient ambulance service, which ferries people to the Dartford hospital for appointments, was not operating on Monday.

More than 30 schools in north Kent were closed on Monday with more closed on Tuesday. Most of the schools in Bromley, Bexley and Greenwich also closed for two days.

But despite the chaos, there were plenty of people that found time to enjoy the snow. Parks were packed with children tobogganing and throwing snowballs, and thousands of workers stayed at home they were unable to get to work.

In Victoria Road, Sidcup, children with a day off school played in the streets. Bart Challis, 17, a Bexley Grammar school pupil, of Victoria Road, said: "We have never seen anything like this.

"The last time it snowed like this was before I was born. We will be out here all day I think. We have seen so many cars get stuck in the snow along here - we have had to help them out."

Sean Ashkettle, 36, from Blackheath, and 18-month-old dog, Deefa were in Greenwich Park. Mr Ashkettle said: "I've seen some amazing scenes. It's like something out of a disaster movie. Everyone's walking around in single file and can't get anywhere."

Louisa Tandy, 36, a dog groomer, of Harmer Street, Gravesend, was walking her dog in Gravesend town centre. She said: "I love the snow. Whenever we have snow I can't wait to get out here with the dogs and my little boy. I live in the town centre and everybody out in the villages gets snow and we don't usually so it's nice to have some in here as well. The dogs love coming out in it."

The legal system was even disrupted with Maidstone Crown Court closed and a murder trial postponed for two days.

Some shows at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford, and Woodville Halls, Gravesend were also closed. Kent Highway Services confirmed they started operating a winter service, with the 63 gritting lorries out during the late afternoon and early evening, and at 4am on Monday morning.

Gritting lorries were also out in force in Bexley, Bromley and Greenwich. Bexley staff used five gritting lorries and treated main routes continuously since 4pm on Sunday afternoon. They had used more than 300 tonnes of grit by 5.50pm on Monday.

Normal street cleaning and waste and recycling collections were suspended across Bromley Bexley and Greenwich, to free up staff to hand grit pavements and shopping areas. In Dartford, street cleaning was suspended for the day but in Gravesham, bin-men collected all but 30 streets worth of rubbish but three had to be taken to hospital, one with a head injury, one with a back injury and one with a suspected a bruised arm.

One unlucky motorist spent the night in the cells through no fault of his own after his car was snowed in, in Masons Hill, Bromley.

The man was forced to sleep at Bromley police station on Sunday night but police officers helped dig out his car on Monday afternoon.

Speaking about the widespread disruption to rail services, a Transport for London spokesperson said: "Following the heavy snowfall on Sunday night, a large number of bus operators and garages were unable to operate a service. The majority of London's bus services operate on local authority maintained roads which were particularly affected by the heavy snowfall.

"This, combined with a number of incidents involving both private and public vehicles led to TfL's decision to withdraw the remaining bus services on the grounds of safety. Some bus services into and out of central London did resume from around 11am on Monday with around 100 routes and 1,700 buses operating during the evening peak.

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