UK’s coldest spring since 1963 claims 5,000 lives: Pensioners worst affected – and experts say final toll could be ‘horrendous’
- 2,000 extra deaths registered in just the first two weeks of March
- And for February, 3,057 extra deaths registered in England and Wales
- Campaigners warn weather could prove deadly for thousands more
PUBLISHED: 19:37 EST, 23 March 2013 | UPDATED: 12:10 EST, 24 March 2013
Freezing Britain’s unusually harsh winter could have cost thousands of pensioners their lives.
This month is on track to be the coldest March for 50 years – and as the bitter Arctic conditions caused blackouts and traffic chaos yesterday, experts warned of an ‘horrendous’ death toll among the elderly.
About 2,000 extra deaths were registered in just the first two weeks of March compared with the average for the same period over the past five years.
Blizzards: The Peak District was one of the worst affected areas as blizzards swept the UK overnight
And for February, 3,057 extra deaths were registered in England and Wales compared with the five-year average for the month.
Campaigners at Age UK, which says 26,000 people die needlessly in winter every year, said the current weather could prove deadly for thousands more.
Director general Michelle Mitchell said: ‘Colder, harsher winters tend to lead to an increase in life-threatening conditions such as heart attacks and strokes which in turn leads to a high rate of excess winter deaths.
- Man, 27, discovered entombed in deep snow as dozens of drivers are rescued from engulfed cars in Britain’s freak spring freeze
- Grandmother, 68, killed after her flat was crushed by landslide caused by heavy rain
- What a difference a year makes: As Britain endures its coldest March since 1963, just 12 months ago we were basking in sunniest March since 1929
‘For every one degree drop in average temperature, there are around 8,000 extra deaths.’
The Office for National Statistics said the extra death rate ‘could be to do with the prolonged period of cold weather we’ve been experiencing.’ But it cautioned that it was too early to make an absolute link. The March figures are still provisional.
Malcolm Booth, chief executive of the National Federation of Occupational Pensioners, said that last month almost 700 of his members had died, compared with 250 last year.
‘If our membership is a representative sample that was replicated across the general population, then we could be looking at a horrendous number when all the figures are in,’ he said.
‘An increase in fuel costs and the extended winter means that more people are going to suffer, and more will be unable to afford to eat and heat their homes. It’s a scary prospect.’
It is not just pensioners who are at risk. The body of a 27-year-old man who went missing while walking home from a night out was found in deep snow in farmland near Burnley, Lancashire, yesterday afternoon. Police said the man would not be named until all family members had been informed.
Chief Inspector Derry Crorken of Burnley Police said: ‘Early indications suggest that it is a very tragic incident where a young man has been out with friends and has become caught up in the weather last night on his journey home.
A sheep with her lamb (left) that was born during the heavy snowfall and blizzards that hit County Durham overnight and (right)
‘I would urge people to only go out if it is necessary.’
Blizzards and power cuts wreaked havoc across large parts of the country yesterday, leaving snowdrifts of up to 15ft in Cumbria and night-time temperatures plunging to -7C (19F) in the Pennines. Power lines were down in Northern Ireland, Scotland and North Wales, leaving 50,000 homes without electricity.
Ulster was hardest-hit, with 29,000 properties without power and 1,000 without water.
The transport network was also crippled. East Midlands, Leeds, Robin Hood (Doncaster) and Humberside Airports were all forced temporarily to close runways for snow and ice to be cleared.
Train services in the North-West were severely hit and even major roads were treacherous. In Cumbria 70 people were put up in a school after being stranded in their cars on the A595.
In North Wales, the Red Cross was brought in to transport vital medical staff to hospitals in 4×4 vehicles because the snow had made roads off limits to normal cars.
The M62 near Rochdale was closed for a time but gritters were out to ensure the route between Manchester and West Yorkshire remained open overnight.
Yesterday’s sporting programme was also badly hit, with Northern Ireland’s football World Cup qualifier against Russia called off for the second time in 24 hours as Belfast’s Windsor Park was unplayable. Elsewhere, seven Football League games in the Midlands, Yorkshire and the North were cancelled and race meetings at Doncaster and Newbury were abandoned. Theme parks at Alton Towers and Drayton Manor Park closed, too.
The Environment Agency had 59 flood alerts in place last night, covering the Midlands, East Anglia, the south east and the south west.
Hundreds of schools were forced to close on Friday and many were expected to remain closed tomorrow, causing headaches for parents.
Weathermen forecast that the harsh conditions would gradually diminish over the coming week but a biting wind from the east would ensure temperatures remain at 4-6C (39-42F), well below the seasonal average of 11C (52F).
Greg Dewhurst of the Met Office said: ‘While the rain, sleet and snow will peter out, it will still feel very cold because of strong easterly winds. The signals are that temperatures will start to return to normal after Easter.’
The weather is also taking its toll on retailers, especially fashion chains where spring lines are remaining on the racks. For DIY chains and garden centres, this is normally one of the most important months. But Mandy Murphy of the British Retail Consortium said: ‘Bad weather could feed through to sales being poorer than hoped for over the big bank holiday weekend.’
It is all in stark contrast to the same time 12 months ago, when sunbathers swamped beaches as temperatures hit 22C (71F), sparking fears of a possible drought.
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