Storm chaos as gale force winds hit Britain

 
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Cancelled rail services leave London and South East in lockdown as gale force winds hit

COMMUTERS are facing chaos this morning after the looming storm heading towards southern Britain prompted rail companies to cancel and delay a swathe of services.

While the exact timing of the worst of the St Jude storm could not be predicted last night, many train firms axed rush-hour services in the face of forecasted 80mph winds and heavy rain.

London Overground has called off all trains before 9am but said it hoped to run a service after this, providing the tracks are clear.

Heathrow, Stansted and Gatwick were all warning of possible disruption last night, and recommended that passengers check with their airline before trying to travel.

Other train companies that have said they will run amended timetables include: Arriva Trains Wales, C2C, East Coast, East Midlands, First Capital Connect, First Great Western, Greater Anglia, South West, Southeastern and Southern.

Eurostar cross-Channel trains have been suspended until at least 7am.

London Midland said it was aiming to run as many services as possible, despite expected speed restrictions on trains between London Euston and Rugby. The Highway Agency also expects to close some road bridges.

London Underground services are expected to run as normal, “unless and until any problems prevent us from doing so”, a spokesperson said.

Prime Minister David Cameron chaired an emergency meeting of the Environment Agency, forecasters and government departments yesterday to ensure contingency plans are in place.

The Met Office last night had an amber warning for “exceptionally windy” conditions today in the south of England and Wales. “[T]he public should be prepared for the risk of falling trees as well as damage to buildings and other structures, bringing disruption to transport and power supplies. The public should also consider adjusting travel plans,” it said.

The Environment Agency last night put out flood alerts, its second-most severe level of alert, for Chiswell, Lyme Regis and West Bar Harbour – all in the south west of England. It also had 124 UK flood warnings in place.

Insurers are also braced for the effects of the St Jude storm. “Extreme weather in recent years ... has resulted in hundreds of millions of pounds worth of damages and this storm is likely to cause widespread damage to property and local infrastructure,” said Richard Stephenson, director of corporate affairs at Axa UK.

The storm has been dubbed St Jude after the patron saint of lost causes, who is traditionally celebrated on 28 October. It has already been compared to the hurricane-force gales that battered Britain in 1987, which became infamous when BBC weatherman Michael Fish underplayed the storm.

Fish told the BBC yesterday that he believes the St Jude storm will be “not as severe” as the one seen 26 years ago.