SHOPPERS and staff at Lakeside shopping centre were forced to abandon their cars as traffic in the area ground to a halt following the closure of Dartford Bridge.
Angry residents waited up to SIX hours to leave as traffic clogged up on all exits from the centre on Monday night.
The bridge closed at 1.30pm due to high winds and reopened at 3.30pm.
But the area became completely congested as shoppers - who had gone bargain hunting in the post-Christmas sales at Lakeside and the retail parks - attempted to leave.
An accident on the A13 approaching the junction with the M25 added to the traffic woes.
Fed up motorists blasted their horns as they crawled on to the blocked up West Thurrock roads.
Amanda Woodruff, 20, from Hadfield Road, Stanford-le-Hope decided to abandon her car altogether. She was parked on the fourth floor of Debenhams car park.
But when she returned to her vehicle after shopping, she was unable to move her car at all because of the traffic.
She went for a meal, only to return later and find the problem had worsened.
She said: “I had my baby with me and he needed to get home so I had to leave my shopping and car and get the train home.
“You've got people beeping because they are getting impatient, engines being turned off, cars having to stop on the car park ramps. It was absolutely manic! Not to mention it cost me extra money to get home at a reasonable time.”
Andy Finn, who was parked in one of the shopping centre’s multi-storey car parks said on Twitter at 6pm: “It’s taken me two hours to go 25 metres.”
On Twitter, shoppers said announcements had been made over the tanoy at Lakeside advising people not to leave the centre, while others stuck in queues leaving the retail park had time to jump out of their cars and pop into Burger King before traffic moved again.
Robert Seaman, 32, from Hodges Close, Chafford Hundred raged on Twitter: “Why the hell haven’t the tolls been lifted on the QE2 bridge. Chaos in Thurrock. Pure greed.”
While thousands of motorists were stuck on the roads around Lakeside and in its car parks, others managed to avoid the traffic before it got too bad - but were forced to change their plans in the process.
Annette Columbine, from Grays said on Facebook: “Luckily this afternoon we sat in it for about 30 mins trying to get to Kent and then managed to turn round and come home!”
Queues building in Lakeside shopping centre's car parks