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Thousands without power after gales

Thousands of people are starting a third day without power after g ale force winds, ice and snow brought a weekend of disruption to Britain's transport and power networks

In Scotland, where winds reached up to 113mph, some homes in the very north of the country have been without electricity since Friday.

Engineers have been working in "treacherous and worsening conditions" to reconnect properties, while charity workers from the Red Cross have been working to reach vulnerable people and provide food, accommodation and generators where possible.

In England, a body has been recovered and searches are to continue for another man after two people were swept out to sea in severe weather at Brighton beach.

The body of Freddie Reynolds, who was swept out to sea as he tried to rescue his friend Dan Nicholls, has been recovered. Searches for his friend will resume today.

A driver died in a one-car crash in Aberdeenshire where weather has been causing problems and police are investigating if it was a factor.

Two people were also taken to hospital after a car crashed with a gritter in South Ayrshire.

Weather warnings remain in place for tomorrow with further strong winds, snow and ice forecast.

The Met Office has yellow ''be aware'' weather alerts in place for all of Scotland, the North and Midlands of England, and Northern Ireland for snow and ice.

The areas worst affected by power cuts have been Inverness-shire, Oban, Perth, Shetland, Skye and the Western Isles.

Dozens of Red Cross volunteers have been working over the weekend with Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) to check on people and drop off supplies.

Alan Broadbent, director of engineering, said: ''I would like to praise the work of our men and women out in the field who had to put up with some of the worst weather conditions I have ever encountered.

''I would also like to thank our customers for their patience and understanding. My apologies, once again, for the disruption they had to endure since yesterday.''

Anne Eadie, co-ordinating the Red Cross response, said: " For everyone affected this is an inconvenience but for many vulnerable people it is a crisis.

"People can be vulnerable because of age, infirmity or a degree of disability. We have been called in to make sure these people are okay and have whatever they need to see this through till power is restored.

''During these visits, we have been delivering gas heaters to households left without heating and providing flasks of hot drinks. If further help is needed, we notify the relevant authorities."

A gust of 113mph has been recorded at Stornoway on Lewis, the strongest since records at that site began in 1970, while winds of 76mph were recorded at High Bradfield, in South Yorkshire, and in Aberdaron, Gwynedd.

The winds also hindered e fforts to recover the beached Hoegh Osaka near Southampton with an operation to remove water postponed due to the weather.

The Sunderland Empire had to close and cancel last night's performance after a statue on its roof toppled over and was left hanging from its base, 90ft up.

Met Office forecaster Alex Burkill said: ''In the north of the UK, the wintry showers should push more eastwards and we should see most of them easing on Sunday.

''The South East should hold on to the largely fine conditions but we will see showers push into Wales and south west England, some of this falling as sleet and snow over the moors but also to lower levels.''

The ferocious gales were stirred up by an extra-powerful jet stream triggered by plunging temperatures in the United States hitting warmer air in the south.

Scottish Hydro Electric Power Distribution (SHEPD) said 12,700 customers are currently waiting for their power to come back on in the north and west of Scotland.

Engineers are "confident" that a significant number will be back on by midday and they are hopeful that the remaining customers' electricity supply should resume by midnight tonight, if the weather holds to allow the work to be carried out.

The latest figures were revealed after SHEPD engineers worked through the night to restore power to more customers.

Electricity has now been restored to just short of 100,000 customers since Friday, when strong winds and rain battered the network, a spokesman said.

Yesterday, bad weather conditions - driving snow, sleet, heavy winds, lightning and ice - hampered efforts by engineers to access the network for repairs.

The areas still affected by the power outages remain Dingwall, Dunoon, Elgin/Huntly, Fort William, Inverness, Oban, Perth, Shetland, Skye, the Western Isles and Wick.

Mr Broadbent said: "Wherever it was safe to do so, our engineers worked through the night to carry out repairs. This really has become a fight with the weather - we have the people, the resources, the commitment, but what we really need is a bit of luck for the weather to let us do our job and bring comfort to our customers who had to endure such appalling disruption."

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