Flooding has caused widespread travel chaos across the north of the country - with heavy rain being blamed for a huge ‘sinkhole’ on the M62.
Would-be festive travellers near flood-affected areas have been warned by police not to travel unless absolutely necessary on a day when many train services are not in operation. With the ground already saturated, heavy rain over the past 24 hours has caused rivers to rise rapidly and roads across the region were closed.
News of the ‘sinkhole’ emerged early on Saturday afternoon, and although it has since been described as a large ‘pothole’ by Highways officials, it was severe enough to shut the M62 westbound. The stretch of road between junction 20 and 19 of the westbound carriageway near Rochdale, Greater Manchester, has been shut since lunchtime.
Highways Agency workers have been fixing the problem and were due to finish by 7pm on Saturday.
Motorists have been given an alternative route past the affected area.
A spokesman for the Highways Agency emphasised it was a pothole rather than a sinkhole, saying the problem was with the road’s surface rather than beneath it.
He said: “The weather in the area is quite severe and this affects the surface along with low temperature.
“Flood water was running off the motorway embankment, making (the pothole) difficult to treat.”
Initial reports suggested it was a 20ft sinkhole which had opened up in the road causing traffic chaos. It is thought the sinkhole was caused a change in temperature along with extreme weather which saw around a month of rain fall in just a few hours along.
No-one was injured.
It came after the Met Office issued ‘danger to life’ flood warnings and the army has been called in to evacuate residents in flood-hit parts of Lancashire and Yorkshire.
Forecasters have warned people to expect more rain and flooding this evening across Lancashire and Yorkshire.
A Highways Agency spokesman said: “When the road surface experiences rainfall like we’ve had today even a slight change in temperature can cause weakness in the road surface.
“We’ve got engineers on site investigating exactly what has happened and what work is required to fix it.
“The hole appears to span two lanes and we’re hoping to get one lane re-opened by 2pm to ease some of the traffic problems.”
The closure was expected to cause havoc for football fans travelling home from to Boxing Day fixtures.
There were also severe problems in Wales where the B5109 Llanfaes Beaumaris was closed, as was the A5/A470 junction at Waterloo Bridge.
There was also heavy flooding on the A487 Bangor and the road was closed from Vaynol roundabout up to the St David’s retail park.
Superintendent Nigel Harrison, who is leading the North Wales Police effort to the co-ordinated response, said: “Every effort is being made to ensure all the major road networks are reopened as soon as possible and people living in the affected areas need to heed the warnings and only travel when it is absolutely necessary.
“We are in close liaison with Natural Resources Wales to ensure the necessary steps are taken should any further evacuation be required.
“We are advising people not to travel unless it is absolutely essential, and then to allow extra time for journey as driving conditions may be difficult.
“Floodwater can be extremely dangerous and people should not attempt to walk or drive through it unless instructed by the emergency services.”
Limited rail services are being offered by Stansted Express, Chiltern Railways, Gatwick Express, Heathrow Express, Merseyrail, ScotRail, Southeastern, Southern and Thameslink, but no other operators are offering any services.
Trains will resume on December 27 but much of north Wales and the north of England will still be suffering from severe floods.
There are 21 severe flood warnings currently in place, including on the River Calder, Lancashire, the River Wyre near St Michaels South and the River Ribble, also Lancashire, the River Aire in Yorkshire, and at Walsden Water, Todmorden, West Yorkshire.