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UK’s worst winter storms for two decades set to continue | UK news | theguardian.com

UK’s worst winter storms for two decades set to continue | UK news | theguardian.com.

The riverside at Tewkesbury, where the Severn has burst its banks

The riverside at Tewkesbury, where the Severn has burst its banks. Photograph: Dougscycles Ashburn/Corbis

Britain remains in the grip of the worst run of winter storms for two decades, with 96 flood warnings in place throughout England and Wales and a further 244 areas put on flood alert.

Coastal areas – particularly in southern England – are most vulnerable because of unusually high tides and the arrival of a strong Atlantic storm.

The Met Office has issued yellow weather warnings of ice and rain, predicting river and surface flooding as well as travel disruption, mainly in south Wales and the south-west and south-east of England. Up to 40mm of rain could fall on higher ground.

Inland rainfall will put pressure on rivers, endangering nearby communities including those along the river Medway in Kent, the river Thames in Oxford and Osney, and the river Severn estuary in Gloucestershire.

The Thames barrier will remain closed to protect land near the river.

Matt Dobson, a forecaster for MeteoGroup, said the rain “simply has nowhere to go” because weeks of severe weather had left the ground waterlogged and rivers rising over their banks.

“It’s very unusual to have so many powerful storms come in one after the other in such a short space of time; we haven’t seen anything like this since about 1991,” he said.

“The nasty weather of the last few days is going to continue across the UK, with the combination of high tides and a powerful storm putting coastal areas particularly at risk.

“Any rain will mean more flooding as the ground is saturated and swollen rivers are coming up against strong waves.”

The strong winds, persistent rain and tidal waves are predicted to batter the UK for at least another two days, as emergency services attempt to cope with the trail of devastation already created by the severe weather.

More than 200 homes have been flooded from Cornwall to Scotland, with miles of coastline affected and roads and fields across the country left under water.

Two people have already died in the storms: a 27-year-old man from Surrey was found on Porthleven Sands beach in Cornwall after he was swept out to sea on New Year’s Eve night, and a woman died after being rescued from the sea in Croyde Bay, north Devon.

Dozens of volunteers in south Devon have resumed their search for missing 18-year-old student Harry Martin, who was last seen leaving his home to take photographs of the weather.

Officials around the country have pleaded with people to keep away from coastal areas, where waves up to 40ft high have lashed the land.

A man and child were almost swept away by a huge wave at Mullion Cove in Cornwall as they peered over the sea wall to watch the raging sea, and elsewhere in Cornwall vehicles driving on a coastal road were swamped and almost washed away by a tidal surge.

In Aberystwyth, a man was rescued by lifeboat after he defied police warnings and became trapped when photographing waves from a harbour jetty. Aberystwyth University has deferred the start of the examination period by one week and is advising students not to travel to the coastal town until the middle of next week.

Debris was strewn across the town’s promenade, while rail lines in north Wales were left buckled by the power of the sea and a road collapsed in Amroth, Pembrokeshire.

The strong tides were said to be the worst to batter the Welsh coast in 15 years.

Emergency services rescued four people from a flooded farm in Llanbedr near Barmouth, north-west Wales, the river Severn burst its banks in Gloucestershire for the second day running and a pregnant woman was rescued after 30 properties were flooded in Cardigan, mid-Wales. Part of the sea wall behind the Landmark theatre in Ilfracombe collapsed because of the storms.

The coastal surge in recent days has tested over 3,000km of flood defences in England.

Trains have also suffered disruption with services in west Wales and from Newport and Bristol to the south coast affected by the weather. There were also delays at the Port of Dover because of force five winds.

The environment secretary, Owen Paterson, warned that more bad weather was on the way and said he had chaired a meeting of all government departments to ensure all the necessary preparations were in place.

“Our flood defences have worked very well and have protected 205,000 homes at risk,” he said.

“I’d like to thank the Environment Agency, local councils, public utilities and emergency services who have worked tirelessly over the last week. I’d also like to thank soldiers from 36 Engineer Regiment and 2 Royal Gurkha Rifles who have helped to fill additional sandbags today in Kent.”

Paterson also urged those in risk areas to sign up to Environment Agency warnings and heed any advice that was issued.

However, the government’s flood-control strategy has been criticised after it emerged that an estimated 1,700 jobs are to be axed at the Environment Agency, with 550 staff from the floods team to go.

Paterson said frontline flood defences would be protected after the EA’s chief executive Paul Leinster said risk maintenance would be “impacted” and work on flood warnings would “have to be resized”.

Leslie Manasseh, the deputy general secretary of trade union Prospect, has called on the government to stop the cuts.

“Last week David Cameron praised Environment Agency staff for doing an amazing job with the floods and extreme weather. It’s typical that as soon as there is a crisis, the politicians immediately turn to the specialists and professionals with the scientific knowledge and skills to step in and protect the public,” he said.

UK braced for more storms and floods | UK news | theguardian.com

UK braced for more storms and floods | UK news | theguardian.com.

Flooding in Maidstone

Flooding in Maidstone, Kent: about 1,000 homes in south-east and south-west England have been flooded and at one stage 300,000 properties were without power. Photograph: Matthew Aslett/Demotix/Corbis

Weather forecasters are warning that more storms could cause further significant flooding in parts of southern England on Thursday as more than 10,000 properties remain without power.

About 1,000 homes in south-east and south-west England have already been flooded and at one stage 300,000 properties in the south-east, the east of England and London had no electricity as bad weather threw many people’s Christmas celebrations into chaos.

The Met Office said widespread gales were likely to develop late during Thursday night or in the early hours of Friday morning bringing gusts of more than 50mph inland and of 70mph to 80mph to some coastal areas and high ground. On Thursday morning, the Environment Agency had 83 flood warnings in place, the bulk of them in the south-east (37), south-west (16), and the Midlands (18).

A Met Office spokesman said: “The public should be aware of the potential for disruption, especially where the high winds are combined with heavy rainfall.”

He said a deep area of low pressure developing over the Atlantic Ocean would bring more wet and windy weather across the UK as it tracked north-eastwards past north-western Britain later on Thursday and during Friday.

“Peak winds are thought most likely to occur during the early hours of Friday and Friday morning with the highest gusts probably being over Irish Sea coastal areas,” he said.

There was some consolation as he said the likely impact was presently thought to be “less severe” relative to other recent storms to have hit the UK.

The Energy Network Association said 13,000 properties remained without power on Thursday morning after 50,000 had no supplies on Christmas Day.

UK Power Networks, which delivers power to about 8 million customers in the south-east, the east of England and London, said that by Thursday morning there were around 8,000 without power in the area.

The director of customer services, Matt Rudling, said: “All our efforts today remain fully focused on reconnecting power supplies in the quickest way possible. Extra staff are on duty, many of whom have cancelled their leave to help with the repair effort or to join our additional call centres. We know this is a very difficult time for our customers and we want to thank them for their understanding.”

The bad weather also hampered the annual Christmas getaway. Some of the most chaotic scenes were at Gatwick airport, where a power outage at its north terminal led to more than 35 cancellations and long delays. Police stepped in to calm angry passengers. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has said it may launch an investigation into the problems, which came two months after flights were hit by an earlier storm.

A CAA spokesman said: “We need to know exactly what happened at the airport. Once we have that information we can decide if there is any further action we need to take.”

The airport said heavy rain caused flooding from the River Mole into airfield substations and the north terminal.

 

Violent storms batter UK triggering emergency response | UK news | The Guardian

Violent storms batter UK triggering emergency response | UK news | The Guardian.

Allonby

Heavy seas and high tides batter the village of Allonby in Cumbria. Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA

Two people were killed, dozens were injured and thousands of residents were rescued or fled from their homes on Thursday as the UK was battered by powerful winds and seaside communities were threatened by the worst storm surge for more than 60 years.

The government’s emergency Cobra committee met twice and local emergency plans swung into operation as the surge threatened to engulf areas of the east coast of England from Northumberland to Kent plus parts of the north-west from Cumbria to Cheshire as well as communities in north Wales.

Emergency services and local authorities advised more than 15,000 people to leave their homes on the east coast of England. Some were due to spend a worrying night with relatives or in emergency rest centres, although many others refused to move, insisting they would stay to protect their properties.

By Thursday evening, more than 40 severe flood warnings – indicating danger to life – had been issued by the Environment Agency, which said the surge could be worse than in 1953 when more than 300 people died and 24,000 homes were damaged or destroyed.

However, the agency was confident that modern flood defences including the Thames and Hull barriers and more efficient warning systems meant such disaster would be averted this time.

The Met Office said the winds were calming but the danger of a storm surge would remain into Friday and snow or ice could also cause problems in the north of England and Scotland.

John Curtin, the Environment Agency’s head of incident management, said: “Flooding of coastal communities along the eastern and north west coasts is expected into Friday. Some defences could be overtopped by the combined effect of high tides, high winds and a large tidal surge.”

The Ministry of Defence was represented at the Cobra meetings and military personnel were standing by ready to help with the rescue effort if needed.

The high winds (a gust of 142mph was recorded over high ground in central Scotland) brought down power lines leaving tens of thousands of households without electricity in Scotland, Northern Ireland and England.

There was also misery for travellers with train services and flights cancelled or delayed. Motorists faced hazardous driving conditions and ferries were disrupted.

According to the Met Office, the problem was caused by a combination of the strong winds, low pressure and high tides. The wind was strong enough to cause water to “pile up” on to some coastlines. Low pressure associated with an Atlantic storm allowed the sea surface to rise temporarily. This combined with high tides to create the surge. Parts of the North Sea are particularly prone to storm surges partly because water flowing into the shallower southern end cannot escape quickly through the narrow Dover Strait and English Channel.

It was the wind rather than the surge that led to the two deaths. One man was killed when he was struck by a tree blown down by the gusts as he rode a mobility scooter through a park in Retford, Nottinghamshire, in the early afternoon.

Earlier, a driver died when his HGV toppled on to a number of cars in West Lothian. Four other people were treated for minor injuries.

Other motorists had lucky escapes. In Birmingham, care worker Muhammad Sial described how his car was crushed by a tree moments after he got out of it. “I just got to the front door and turned to look back and the tree had smashed my car,” he said.

The wind was so strong that people were blown off their feet in some places. In Birmingham’s city centre, a pedestrian was taken to hospital with serious injuries after being hit by falling glass from a window. Two people were also hurt when the roof blew off one of the huts in the city’s popular German Christmas market. A few miles away in Walsall, West Midlands, neighbours had to lift a tree that had toppled on to a man. He was taken to hospital where he was treated for back and neck injuries.

There were some worrying moments for air travellers. A flight to Glasgow was forced to abort two landing attempts in Scotland before being diverted to Manchester. Passenger Hazel Bedford, a charity worker, said: “I’m feeling really lucky to be alive. An awful lot of people were being sick but the plane, it was incredibly quiet. All I could think of was my new year’s resolution this year, which was to write my own will, and I haven’t done it. I was absolutely terrified.”

In Rhyl in north Wales, 40 residents – and six dogs – were ferried to safety by teams from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and North Wales fire and rescue service. About 400 people in all left their homes in the resort.

As the violent weather moved south from Scotland during the day, police and other emergency services were trying to evacuate thousands of residents on the east coast. They were being asked to move inland and stay with relatives if possible – and local authorities were also opening emergency shelters in leisure centres and schools. Norfolk’s deputy chief constable Charlie Hall said: “We understand people may be anxious, but we would like to reassure residents that Norfolk has tried and tested flood response plans which are being put in place, in line with Environment Agency advice.”

Many said they would not leave. Anne Edwards, of Great Yarmouth, said: “We’re staying put. The house we live in was flooded in 1953 and there’s a four-and-a-half foot-high water line in the dining room from then. We always knew we might be at risk of flooding, so there is a camping stove upstairs and we have water and cans of food. I’ve got my wellies ready.”

In Sandwich, Kent, residents were sent a message by the Environment Agency reading: “Severe Flooding. Danger to life.” and adding: “Act now to protect yourself, family, neighbours, pets and valuables.”

Police in Jaywick, Essex, asked people who wanted to stay in their homes to sign a disclaimer acknowledging they had been advised to leave. Some said they were worried their homes would be looted if they left.

The environment secretary, Owen Paterson, urged people to listen to the emergency services and heed their advice. He said: “These storms are dangerous. I would urge everybody to pay close attention to announcements by the Environment Agency, the department for transport and local government.”

 

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