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Editor stranded by floods spends night in his car

Western Morning News editor Alan Qualtrough has told how he was forced to spend the night in his car after becoming one of the thousands of motorists stranded by floods.

Alan had been on his way from Plymouth to Whaley Bridge in North Derbyshire on Friday night when he got caught in traffic on the M5, and after eight hours of queues eventually made his way as far as Cheltenham – only to be turned away from hotels already full with earlier M5 refugees.

Instead he made do with a few hours sleep in his car in Cheltenham’s Imperial Square, before finally making it to Derbyshire to collect his grandsons and then home again via Wales.

Alan said: “I should have guessed that trouble was afoot when I saw the lime green swatches representing heavy rain on the BBC weather forecast swirling over the West Midlands and M5 on the lunch-time news. Or I could have turned back at 7pm when the M5 traffic slowed to a halt outside the Michael Wood Services, just east of Bristol.

“But instead the ‘I will get through no matter what’ bit of me kicked in and I decided to press on. And so did my journalistic experience gained through years of working on the road.

“I had something to eat, refuelled and crucially took food and drink with me on board as well as an empty Coke container with a lid in case I needed a pee.

“After rejoining the M5 at 7.30pm progress was very slow, and so was information about what was happening ahead. At about 10pm I inched past Junction 11a and looked down at the stationary traffic on the Brockworth bypass. There was no chance of turning back now. I was sucked in.

“Just after midnight I got lucky. There had been a minor bump and a gap appeared in the slow lane just as we were being filtered left because of road works. I was in like a flash and after a few hundred yards that took an excruciating 45 minutes I edged up the slip road to exit at Junction 11.

“Behind me the Highways Agency arrived and threw a cordon across the carriageways. The poor sods behind me were stuck until at least dawn.

“Then the seriousness of it all sunk in. The slip road was littered with abandoned vehicles and the A40 traffic island above the motorway was like a lorry park, with vehicles crammed together on the verge. The A40 dual carriageway was the same.

“An RAF helicopter flew overhead as the local BBC radio station reported people being rescued from rooftops. It was like the exodus scenes we see on US TV of communities fleeing hurricanes.”

As much of Cheltenham slept, Alan bedded down for a restless few hours in his car before continuing his journey at 5.30am, returning to the A40 as workmen removed the cones on the east-bound slipway.

Alan said: “From Junction 11 until Strensham Services it was a though the tide had just gone out. There were large patches of mud and debris across the carriageway.

“At Strensham Services cars were abandoned on the exit slip road and one vehicle appeared to be floating in three feet of water that had gathered in the entrance. The westbound carriageway – the three lanes jammed with stationary cars – was just being reopened.

“It looked like the start of a Grand Prix as motorists dashed to their cars. The first cars away were overtaking parked cars in which the drivers were still asleep.

“For me it was a 600-mile round journey that took 28 hours.”