The 1996 Winter White out
When the Loop Road became home to hundreds of trapped drivers

IT was 1996 when WEST CUMBRIANS made the best of the worst in what one
88-year-old described as the worst white-out since the war.
Some 500 cars, lorries and buses completely blocked the roads between
the Howgate Hotel and Hensingham. All routes in and out of Whitehaven
were impassable and West Cumberland Hospital could not accept patients.
The drama started at around 8.0am on a quiet Monday morning as the
first snow flakes fell. Within three hours four inches of snow and
jack-knifed lorries had started to paralyse traffic.
By the afternoon shops and businesses had closed and people attempted
to flee home as Stagecoach bus services and British Rail services ground
to a halt.
The traffic jam that built up around the Pelican Garage had a knock on
effect all along the A595 to Sellafield. Journey times of 12 to 14 hours
were common.
At Sellafield for the first time ever at 6.0pm on Monday management
decided the wisest course of action was to have a controlled shut down
of both the Magnox and Thorp plants. As spokesman David Young explained:
"We could have continued with production, but in view of the fact that
emergency services would not have been able to get through we decided it
was best to shut down.''
2,000 Sellafield workers were forced to remain on site and slept in
offices, canteens and changing rooms. All other staff were advised not
to report in for work.
Most bizarre alert of the evening of chaos was that Whitehaven fire
brigade had to try to respond to an automatic fire alarm at the isolated
St Bees lighthouse. The alarm was false and the brigade got stuck trying
to reach the lighthouse before being towed ignominiously back to the
fire station by a JCB.
St Bees parish councillor, Harold Wilson who got off relatively lightly
with just a six hour journey from Distington commented: "In those six
hours we never saw a single county highways vehicle...and I heard they
plan to lay off 22 staff.''
By Tuesday afternoon police were operating a one way system at Howgate
which started to mobilise traffic again on the A595.
Countering cricism a spokesman for the Cockermouth county highways
department said: "We pre-salted all priority I and 2 routes, including
the A595 on Sunday evening.
"We had every piece of plant and machinery and all our men out on
Monday on snow clearance.''
Providing emergency refuge accommodation at the height of the blizzard
were both the Salvation Army Citadel and the Aged Concern building. Over
100 people were put up at the Salvation Army with people from all over
the North, Chester, Manchester and Newcastle huddling together. The
magistrates court staff had to stay overnight as did many offices and
businesses. The Expresso coffee bar in Whitehaven Market provided
impromptu overnight emergency accommodation.
The massive traffic snarl-up on the Loop Road led to the Sunny Hill
public house opening all hours and being swamped with benighted
Some 100 children were stranded at a school in Egremont and 50 stranded
at Mayfield special school, Hensingham.
Coping better than some with the snow was Safeways supermarket worker,
Allison Kitchin who skied down from Kells to get to work.
EMERGENCY vehicles trying to reach people still trapped in their cars
on Tuesday morning were locked in continuing traffic jams between
Whitehaven and Workington.
An RAC patrol man, stuck with his break-down vehicle in the stationary
queue on the New Road hill out of Whitehaven, said: "This is getting
serious. There are old people out there who have been in their cars all
night and could be suffering from hypothermia. We cannot get to them and
some of them are likely to be in need of help and medical attention."
Police allowed traffic to start moving again out of Whitehaven about
9am on Tuesday, a single-line route having been opened up to Workington
through clusters of immobile vehicles and deep and drifting snow on both
sides of the road.
But within 30 minutes everything was at a standstill again, with police
trying to create a way through for snow ploughs.
Meanwhile the area around Pelican Garage at the north end of Whitehaven
Loop Road was again a chaotic scene. From the garage in every direction
vehicles could be seen halted bumper to bumper, frustrated and anxious
drivers climbing in and out trying to determine what was happening

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