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Transport paralysed by big freeze

Widespread travel chaos caused by some of the severest winter weather for a century has left Christmas commuter plans in tatters and swathes of the country paralysed.

Delays and cancellations at a host of UK airports continued to hit thousands of passengers, while plummeting overnight temperatures left almost the entire road network caked in treacherous black ice.

After shutting on Saturday, Heathrow said it would not be letting any flights land on its runway, with only a "handful" of departures taking place, pouring misery on hundreds of stranded people who were forced to spend the night in terminals.

Gatwick Airport reopened after planes were grounded for large period of yesterday, but widespread disruption was expected with officials advising passengers to check with their airline before travelling. Stansted, Luton, Exeter, London City, Aberdeen, Birmingham, Bristol, Southampton, Cardiff and Birmingham airports also said flights would be subject to delays and cancellations.

A spokeswoman for Heathrow, which experienced temperatures of minus 5.2C overnight, said: "Heathrow Airport will not be accepting arrivals on Sunday, and will only manage a handful of departures as our airfield team continues to deal with the impacts of yesterday's bad weather and prepares the airport for a full reopening on Monday."

Forecasters said the UK was hit by abnormally low temperatures overnight, with most parts of the country struggling to get over minus 5C. The mercury dropped to minus 19C in Pershore in the Midlands, and minus 14C in Chesham, Buckinghamshire, while fresh snow fell in eastern England and Scotland.

Snow is expected in northern and eastern Scotland and north-east England, with the Met Office issuing severe weather warnings.

Commuters were also warned of widespread icy roads in Wales, north-west England, the Midlands and the South.

Weather experts said temperatures would struggle to rise above freezing, meaning large accumulations of snow, which left many people stuck in their homes yesterday, would fail to clear. Chaos was again expected on the roads and on rail networks today with the freeze showing little sign of relenting.

Aisling Creevey, forecaster at MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said: "The majority of the country is already covered in ice and it will be a challenge again today even in areas where roads have been treated due to the low temperatures." Ms Creevy said Sunday would be a dryer day but temperatures would stay "bitterly" cold into the end of next week, with more snow on its way.

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