Evacuation alert after torrential rain brings flood chaos

COMMUNITIES in the Borders were on evacuation alert last night after more than 24 hours of unrelenting torrential rain led to rivers bursting their banks, flooding farmland and causing traffic chaos across a swathe of southern and central Scotland.

Gales, gusting to 70mph in places, added to the problems facing emergency services after more than 3in of rain fell in parts of the Borders and Dumfries and Galloway, with the Met Office warning of more to come. Hundreds of travellers were affected on both sides of the Border when Virgin rail services on the west coast main line were disrupted.

At Eskdalemuir, in Dumfriesshire, 3.5in of rain was recorded in 27 hours – smashing the previous record for a day of 2.75in set in 1931. Over the Border, Cumbria was harder hit, with 6.8in of rain in 24 hours at Seathwaite.

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There are fears of more flooding today, as the continuing deluge falls on saturated ground.

In the Borders, the River Teviot burst its banks in Hawick after almost a month's average rain fell in a day, causing river levels to rise by up to 8ft. The River Annan burst its banks near Lockerbie. Last night, severe flood warnings remained in force for the Teviot and another three rivers in the Borders – the Tweed upstream of Peebles, and the Ettrick and Yarrow. A severe flood warning was also issued for two stretches of the Earn in Perthshire, from Comrie to Crieff, and downstream of Crieff to Bridge of Earn. Scottish Borders Council's emergency team was on stand-by to evacuate homes in Hawick and Selkirk.

One of the worst areas affected in England was the town of Cockermouth in Cumbria. RNLI lifeboat teams and three RAF helicopters were sent to assist a rescue operation, with up to 200 residents trapped in the town centre. Witnesses said trees were seen floating down the main street and electricity supplies to 1,145 homes in the area had been lost.

Also on the west coast, alternative arrangements were made for rail passengers travelling north to Glasgow who found the service suspended from Preston, but some ticket-holders claimed they had been left to make their own arrangements in London.

A Virgin Trains spokesman said: "We are sorry for any problems experienced, but we have taken steps to ensure disruption was kept to a minimum. Tickets for the Virgin services on the west coast to Scotland were valid for the east coast service. Those passenger who travelled north as far as Preston were offered alternative transport arrangements to reach their destinations."

In pictures: Flooding hits Hawick

ScotRail last night warned there would be disruption to services between Glasgow and Edinburgh today. The service between Waverley and Queen Street will run every 30 minutes and Edinburgh-Dunblane and Edinburgh-Bathgate will run hourly.

Four years ago, the Teviot burst its banks in the Commercial Road and Mansfield Road areas of Hawick – the same areas affected by yesterday's flooding – causing 1.25 million of damage. Sandbags were delivered by council workmen to premises at risk along the riverbank. Johnston's of Elgin had drawn up plans to evacuate the company's cashmere factory in Mansfield Road but the 220-strong workforce remained at their posts.

James Sugden, the managing director, said: "The council has closed the road leading to the factory and we had considered evacuating. The water is lapping against the walls.

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"We had 100,000 worth of damage last time when the floods happened overnight, so we are better prepared. All the stock is off the floor, but the situation is worrying and we will have people in the factory round the clock keeping an eye on things."

A spokeswoman for Borders Council said: "Three homes in the Ettrick Valley are affected by flooding and no doubt there are others we are not yet aware of.

"We are making sure there are adequate supplies of sandbags for those who might need them. We also have on stand-by rest-centre teams in case we need them."

Hawick councillor Davie Paterson said: "The river is up about 8ft and more rain is forecast, so we are very concerned.

"There are still houses empty from the last flooding in 2005 and this is a disaster again for the town."

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) said: "Rivers are very high, with considerable rain falling on saturated ground across south-west Scotland."

The Nith burst its banks in Dumfries, flooding a car park. The Sepa spokeswoman said: "Outwith the River Nith flood warning scheme, the Annan is reported to have burst its banks near Lockerbie and there are widespread reports of localised flooding from smaller watercourses throughout the area."

Road conditions from the Borders as far north as Tayside were described as treacherous. And in Dumfries and Galloway a number of roads were said to be totally impassable.

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In the Borders, Ettrick, Yarrow and Kirkhope primary schools were closed and rural pupils were sent home from high schools in Hawick and Selkirk.

A Met Office spokesman said an additional 3-4in of rain was expected in parts of Cumbria, the Borders and Dumfries and Galloway by midday today.