September 8, 2008

Britain Counts the Cost of Weekend’s Deadly Deluge

By Amol Rajan

THE HEAVY rains that caused severe flooding and killed at least eight people across Britain began to ease in many parts of the country yesterday.

But while the weather brightened and floodwaters receded in some areas, hundreds of homes remained submerged as forecasters warned of further heavy downpours tomorrow.

The Environment Agency said it expected rivers to stabilise but had a "very watchful eye" on the north-east of England and the river Ouse. Flash floods hit Yorkshire, Shropshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire and Teesside was particularly at risk. The BBC Weather Centre said between 5mm and 10mm of rainfall was expected in north-east England yesterday, compared with 30 to 40mm on Saturday.

Northumberland was badly hit. About 1,000 properties were flooded when the river Wansbeck burst its banks in the ancient market town of Morpeth. Hundreds of people spent Saturday night in temporary accommodation.

As the floodwater drained away, residents returned to their homes to find scenes of soggy wreckage. The Northumberland fire service rescued 110 people by boat. Paul Hedley, a spokesman, said Morpeth suffered "utter devastation" but added: "The evacuation and rescue attempts worked very well."

The Floods Recovery minister, John Healey, will visit Morpeth today. In nearby Kirkley Mill, an RSPCA team called out to help horses rescued a baby trapped in a crashed car. An RAF helicopter was deployed to rescue three police officers. And in Staffordshire, firefighters and RSPCA workers were last night trying to save 100 "stressed" sheep marooned by 6ft of rising water at Fisherwick Hall Farm, Lichfield.

Yesterday, there was one severe flood warning covering parts of south-east Manchester and more than 200 warnings or watches elsewhere. The Environment Agency said: "It will take time for rain on high ground to reach low areas. It remains a threat."

The deaths of at least eight people are believed to have been caused by the bad weather. A girl of 17 from Thamesmead, south-east London, died in Powys when a 4x4 she was travelling in overturned in a river. A couple were killed as their car hit a tree in Plymouth, and a 42-year-old motorcyclist from Sheffield died when his Kawasaki hit a fallen branch on the A66.

Alex Wright, 27, died on a building site in Stroud, Gloucestershire when a trench caved in. And on the A170 in North Yorkshire, a motorcyclist was killed in an accident with a fire engine on an emergency call.

A woman died in the sea at Barton on Sea, Hampshire, on Saturday. Another swimmer died after getting into difficulties at Perranporth in Cornwall.


'It's a scene of utter devastation'

Jessica Turnbull, 19, from Morpeth, Northumberland

My nan's house is about a mile away from mine, but whereas I live at the top of the hill, she lives at the bottom, right on the river Wansbeck.

My mum and I ran down the hill to rescue her and the water level got higher and higher as we approached the river. Eventually, I had to wade through in my wellies and pyjamas, while my mum stood on the bridge. She told me later that she could see the river swelling by the minute.

The rescue team planned to carry my nan, who by now was soaking wet and cold, out in their arms. But because the water level was rising so fast they sent for a boat, and took us to the local social club.

I went back to the house yesterday and it's a scene of utter, stinking devastation ... My nan has been forced to watch all her worldly possessions and memories being robbed from her.

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