Two dead and 800 homes flooded as severe strorms hit
Two people have died and more than 800 homes were damaged as parts of Britain were hit by the worst flooding in half a century.
25 November, 2012
A 21-year-old woman was killed in Exeter on Saturday night after being trapped under a fallen tree, while in Cambridgeshire a 70-year-old man died when his car plunged into a swollen river.
A 12-month-old baby was rescued from a car in Somerset as up to 70mm of rain fell in a matter of hours overnight onto already sodden ground, with Devon and Cornwall worst hit.
Hundreds of homes across the south west fell victim to surging waters on Saturday night and Sunday morning, bringing the total number flooded since storms began on Wednesday to 816.
These included 30 houses which were evacuated in the village of Kempsey, Worcestershire, where a £1 million pumping system installed after major floods in 2007 failed to activate.
In Malmesbury, Wiltshire, four people were rescued from their homes by fire crews as 3ft of water flooded the town centre in what the mayor described as the worst flooding in 70 years.
David Cameron expressed his concern at the “shocking scenes” on the social networking site Twitter, pledging that the government would “ensure everything is being done to help”.
Rain subsided in the south west on Sunday but the Environment Agency warned that hundreds of areas were still at risk, with river levels still dangerously high and more rain expected overnight.
Four people have died in as many days since stormy weather set in last week. An elderly man was killed after his 4x4 was caught in a deluge under a bridge in Chew Stoke, Somerset, on Thursday night.
Early on Saturday 50-year-old Kevin Wilkinson died having stumbled into the river Colne in Watford amid thick fog, and police are still searching the flood-swollen River Thames for Franciscus van de Gender, a 91-year-old man who vanished near Sonning, Berkshire.
A 21-year-old woman was killed and two male companions suffered minor injuries when a spruce tree fell onto a tent in which they were understood to be sleeping rough on Saturday night. The woman was taken to hospital but died from her injuries.
A 70-year-old man also died on Saturday evening after his car left the road and plunged into a swollen river near Earith in Cambridgeshire.
He was pulled from his car by a bystander but was pronounced dead by paramedics as they took him to hospital. Police said the crash was an accident and was not caused by flooding.
During the weekend’s stormy weather which residents of many south west towns said eclipsed the summer floods of 2007:
• A driver in Fernhurst, West Sussex, escaped without serious injury after the wind brought two trees down onto his car;
• Police used bolt cutters to rescue a flock of young ducks from a caged area on a river in the centre of Dawlish, saving them from drowning amid rising water levels;
• Railway lines between Exeter and Yeovil were closed due to a landslip and roads across the country including parts of the M5 motorway were shut off due to flooding.
• The village of Millbrook, Cornwall saw a reported 5ft of flooding, forcing 40 homes to be evacuated;
• Some of the worst flooding came in Malmesbury, where 40 homes were flooded during the night as 3ft of water came surging down the town’s high street.
Mayor Ray Sanderson added: "It's the worst flooding in 70 years, I was a boy in Malmesbury and I've never seen water like it. The houses won't dry out for weeks and months. There were cars with water up to their bonnets."
Officials warned on Sunday that similar scenes were expected overnight across the south west and central England, with up to an inch of rain forecast to fall on areas already swamped by flood water.
Residents in the north east and northern Wales were also told to protect their homes ahead of possible flooding this morning, as a heavy band of rain swept across the country, with Middlesbrough, Hartlepool and North Yorkshire at highest risk.
There were more than 500 flood warnings in place last night including one “severe warning” – the highest level signifying a danger to life – in Helston, Cornwall.
Flooding was expected in 234 areas, including 125 in the Midlands, and there were a further 277 places where flooding was regarded as “possible”, as the Met Office said up to 70mm of rain was expected in parts of the north east and north Wales.
Emergency services were prepared to work through the night again on Sunday after being stretched to the limit by widespread flooding the previous evening.
More than 230 Cornwall Council staff worked overnight on Saturday, while fire and rescue pumps were sent to Perranporth after the river broke its banks and the RNLI’s south west flood team was called to assist emergency services in Exeter.
One emergency worker called for people to use their “common sense” in the hazardous conditions, warning that irresponsible behaviour on roads was putting lives at risk.
Nathan Hudson, general manager of West Midlands Ambulance Service, said: “Perhaps surprisingly, we have had to deal with a remarkable number of stuck 4x4s. Just because your vehicle has four wheel drive, does not make it amphibious.”
The Environment Agency said flood defences have protected some 25,000 homes since Wednesday and teams are working across the UK to keep water at bay.
A spokesman said engineers would be present in Kempsey last night to ensure there would be no repeat of Sunday morning, when pumps failed at 5am allowing 2ft of water to surge into the village.
The defences had been installed after homes in Kempsey were flooded in the summer of 2007.
Resident Dan Cornes said: "It is unacceptable the pumps failed – more than £1m was spent on them and somebody's got to take responsibility. The Environment Agency has been very good to us but we should not be building in these areas [where flooding is likely]."
Richard Benyon, the Environment Minister praised emergency workers for their response to the weekend’s floods but warned that climate change would make severe weather a more common problem in future.
He said: “We are going to get more of these events – this time last year we were dealing with the worst drought in living memory and we have got to be able to deal with these extremes of weather in the future.”
After further rain last night and this morning the Met Office said much of the country would experience a drier week, but added that a sudden cold snap from today would make for icy conditions on wet roads.