Alexandra Topping 

Isle of Wight festival hit by travel chaos after torrential rain

Festivalgoers sleep in cars on gridlocked roads or are stranded on boats as wet weather turns site into mud bath
  
  

The torrential rain that has blighted the summer yesterday caused chaos at the Isle of Wight music festival, as an expected 55,000 people travelling to the event were confronted with seven-mile queues of traffic, fields that had been turned to mudbaths, and suspended ferry services that left hundreds stranded in the Solent.

Organisers offered frustrated festivalgoers refunds for tickets that cost up to £190, but were trading on eBay yesterday for as little as £38.

Cars wait to board Isle of Wight ferry
Cars wait to board a ferry to the Isle of Wight in Southampton. Photograph: Chris Ison/PA

Hampshire police insisted that an emergency plan was formulated by Sunday to ensure that everyone is able to leave safely. More rain is expected tonight.

The problems started after a month's worth of rain fell overnight on Thursday, waterlogging car parks and causing them to churn up with mud as cars began to arrive. As they became inaccessible, queues began snaking all the way back to the ports. The queues prevented further cars from disembarking and about 600 people were left on board circling ferries as services were suspended.

Isle of Wight festival mud
Revellers wading through mud at the festival. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA

Some frustrated revellers who had hoped to arrive at the campsite early to hear a performance from Primal Scream resorted to sleeping in their cars for up to 10 hours, while others were evacuated by Hampshire police to Newport Football Club, where they were given shelter overnight.

Ellie Hawkes was one of the lucky ones, leaving London at midday and arriving at the site in Newport late on Thursday night. "It looks like a battlefield," said the 27-year-old. "There is so much mud, suspicious-smelling mud at that, full of abandoned shoes, jumpers, tents – it is utter carnage."

The island's residents also suffered, with reports of children having to walk up to four miles home from school, cancelled funerals and commuters unable to get to work.

Some people travelling to the festival, such as Sonia Waters, simply gave up. Waters posted on Facebook that she had turned around and gone home after 13 hours of queueing. "Worst experience ever!! Bought me and my sister weekend camping tickets as a treat. 13hrs of queueing, seeing people come back from the site as mud man was the final straw."

Isle of Wight festival puddle
Mud at the campsite at the Isle of Wight festival. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA

Festival promoter John Giddings told BBC Radio Solent: "If you have got your ticket, I have to refund you if you send it back to me. If someone has suffered that, that's outrageous. I don't think I should keep their money. Believe you me, I am doing everything in my power and the police are telling me to do everything in my power, because they want an emergency plan from me by Sunday about how we are going to get people out."

The festival was forced into crisis management, towing cars on to the swampy site and laying emergency woodchip, gravel and hay delivered from local farmers. Artists were given police escorts to the site to make sure they didn't miss their slots.

The muddy campsite at the Isle of Wight festival
A walkway through the campsite. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA

But for many of those who had bought tickets, the chaos at the site was unacceptable. "We all knew the weather was going to be horrendous, but it feels like the right preparation wasn't in place," said Hawkes. "We all brought wellies and waterproofs and it feels we were less caught out than the organisers. We are now more worried about Sunday – we only have a little Corsa and I don't know how were going to manage to get it off site."

Adele Booth, who walked to the site after being stuck on a bus for four hours, said arriving at the festival was "chaotic" with little information available. "There was a lot of confusion. There is a sense of camaraderie, but people are upset. I'm a bit anxious, because there is no spirit here at the minute."

Giddings said the festival had turned into a battle against nature. "The bottom line is, when you put a car on a really wet field – no matter how much gravel, trackway or woodchip you put down – it will be a problem. Every time you put something down, 20 cars pass over it and it sinks into another layer of mud. The weather has been horrendous. The amount of water that has fallen in just 24 hours is beyond belief. I'm really sorry and appreciate the support that people have given us. I'm sorry they have had to suffer these conditions."

The Met Office predicted more rain during the coming nights, but expected the days to remain dry but windy. Further severe weather warnings for heavy rain have been issued across parts of Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Lancashire, with up to 100mm (4in) expected in some places. Parts of south-east England, East Anglia, the north and east Midlands and Wales were also on alert for localised flooding over the weekend, the Environment Agency said.

The festival – which famously hosted Jimi Hendrix, the Who and the Doors in 1970 – has attracted a lineup including Tom Petty and Elbow, who were due to perform last night, with Pearl Jam and Jessie J today and Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band and Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds topping Sunday's bill.

Lloyd Shepherd, a writer visiting the festival with friends, said he was still pleased to be at the event. "It will be great to see Bruce Springsteen play," he said. "That's if we haven't got trench foot."

 

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