HUNDREDS of people were forced to evacuate their homes on Boxing Day as torrential rainfall sparked two red weather warnings – meaning “danger to life”. Some rivers burst their banks and towns and villages were cut off by flooding in the north of England.
Seven flood alerts and 16 flood warnings were issued in Scotland, but the worst of the weather was endured south of the Border. Around 10,000 homes in Lancashire lost their electricity supply after flood waters hit a main substation in the region, with engineers last night battling to restore power as the rain continued.
Lancashire and Yorkshire were hit by severe flooding after days of heavy rain. Two of the Met Office’s rare “take action” alerts were in place yesterday and the Environment Agency (EA) issued seven severe warnings for the north-west of England.
Meanwhile, roads across north Wales were closed due to heavy flooding, with police in the region warning people against all but essential travel after rising waters blocked the A5 and A55, the two major roads into the region.
A total of 335 flood alerts have been issued for the whole of the UK, with 15 at the most severe level.
Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss called a meeting of the government’s COBRA emergency committee yesterday as the problem worsened.
Firefighters urged people to take the flooding seriously and prepare for further disruption – including possible evacuation.
Deputy chief fire officer Justin Johnston of Lancashire Fire Service posted: “If you are asked to evacuate please do, as returning to rescue you later risks you and our crews.”
Truss said: “I would like to again pay tribute to the tireless work of frontline staff over the last month and the Christmas period, and the extraordinary resilience of the people affected, which I have seen first hand.
“My thoughts and sympathy continue to be with people flooded out of their homes this Christmas and I can assure them we are doing everything we can to help communities recover from these storms.”
Meanwhile, Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service warned people to stay away from flood hit areas.
“A severe flood warning means danger to life. It doesn’t mean ‘come and have a look’. Please don’t come to visit Whalley or Ribchester now,” the service said in a tweet.
Residents in Whalley and Ribchester in Lancashire – where the river reached its highest level on record – were told to abandon their houses when flood waters poured through the streets after torrential downpours.
Some towns were essentially cut off as flood waters submerged all routes in. Roads were closed off leading to Whalley, which lies on the burst banks of the River Calder. The main road in the village, King Street, was submerged as some residents were evacuated by rescue boats as the water levels continued to rise with the persistent downpour.
A lack of available sandbags was a cause of concern as the emergency services and the army worked tirelessly at the scene.
Todmorden in West Yorkshire has also been hit and the waters are continuing to rise as the rain keeps falling.
Resident Lee Fraser, who lives on Halifax Road, said the road between the town and the neighbouring village of Hebden is submerged.
“The siren went off at about 7am this morning and 10 minutes later everything started flooding,” he said. “A lot of people are moving their stuff upstairs in their houses and the police came and closed the roads.”
Todmorden resident Rebecca Marshall said the town had been totally cut off after all the roads were closed and the flood water is “inches” from the top of the defence wall.
She was yesterday stuck in her home without electricity after floodwaters started rising up through the floorboards.
“At the moment in our house it’s ankle deep,” she said. “With no electricity we will have to move out. All roads in and out of Todmorden have been closed, I don’t think we can get out of the town.”
In Summerseat near Bury, a 200-year-old former pub on a bridge over the River Irwell collapsed due to the river flooding yesterday afternoon.
Even one fire station – in Padiham in Lancashire – was forced to evacuate after it was hit by floods.
Alison Baptiste, EA flood duty manager, said: “Our thoughts are with all those who’ve been coping with serious flooding to their homes and businesses repeatedly over Christmas and those who face the risk of further flooding.
“We have issued several severe flood warnings, meaning a risk to life. We urge people to check their flood risk, prepare for flooding, follow advice from emergency services and never to risk driving through flood water.”
A company from the 2nd Battalion, Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, helped communities across the Northwest build miles of temporary flood defences.
Politicians are calling on the government to rethink cuts to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).
Lib Dem leader Tim Farron said: “Coming a single day after Christmas is utterly terrible for those communities and my heart goes out to all those affected. The government can and must do more to help people. But part of that response must be to look again at the swingeing cuts to departments like DCLG and Defra that will be needed to help communities back on to their feet.”