Red alert as ferocity of storm enters deadly phase

Huge waves batter the coastline at Chiswell in Dorset. Picture: Richard Broome
Huge waves batter the coastline at Chiswell in Dorset. Picture: Richard Broome
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BRITAIN is to be battered by winds of up to 100mph and deluged by a month’s rain in just 24 hours according to the Met Office, which yesterday issued the first “red” weather warning of the winter.

Exceptionally strong winds – which could prove deadly – will hit western parts of Wales and north-western England today, while the already-sodden West Country is expected to be hit with almost a month of rain by tomorrow.

The red alert means there is officially a “risk to life” and it ranks above amber (“be prepared”) and yellow (“be aware”) warnings.

A pensioner yesterday died of suspected electrocution while attempting to move a fallen tree which had brought down power cables. The man, in his 70s, died at around 3.20pm near Chippenham, Wiltshire.

Last night, Scots rail passengers endured cancellations and long delays as Virgin advised all passengers to “abandon” travel and said that those already on services would be taken only to the nearest station.

Network Rail said some train services were running out of Euston to Birmingham and Wolverhampton but with delays.

However, a spokeswoman said there was no service on the West Coast mainline north of Nuneaton, due to “trees and overhead equipment coming down along the route”.

Rail passengers were advised to check for updates before attempting to travel today.

High winds and snow also caused “carnage” on some Scottish roads yesterday, according to police.

The southern tip of Dumfries and Galloway is expected to suffer from the same severe low-pressure system that is causing major problems south of the Border, although weather warnings are less severe throughout the rest of Scotland.

The flooding misery of the past few days in the south of England is set to continue, as the Thames is predicted to rise to its highest level in more than 60 years in some places. As a consequence, the number of people flooded since the beginning of December is expected to rise above the current level of 5,800.

Winds of 80mph are expected, but gusts could reach up to 100mph in the most exposed locations in west and north-west Wales, potentially hitting power supplies, bringing down trees and causing widespread damage, while the Met Office has said that coastal areas face being battered by large waves.

Last night, there remained 14 severe flood warnings – meaning there is a danger to life – in the Thames Valley. Another two severe flood warnings were in place in Somerset, while the Environment Agency had 129 flood warnings and more than 200 less serious flood alerts in force.

Paul Leinster, chief executive of the Environment Agency, said: “Our hearts and sincere sympathy go out to those who have already experienced flooding. We continue to have teams out on the ground 24/7, working to protect lives, homes, businesses, communities and farmland.

“With further rain expected in the coming days, after the wettest January on record in England, the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better.

“Further flooding is expected along the Thames, which could reach its highest levels in some places since 1947. River levels are very high across south-west, central and southern England, and further rain has the potential to cause significant flooding.”

The worst disruption in Scotland yesterday was caused by snow and high winds. Fire and rescue crews had to cut a driver free after his van collided with a lorry on the A9 at Drumochter Pass at around 2:20pm. The drivers were taken to hospital but their injuries were not thought to be life-threatening.

There was also disruption on the A82 at Ballachulish, with a jackknifed lorry and several other minor road traffic collisions, which did not result in any injuries. Road users have been advised to use caution crossing the A9 Dornoch Bridge due to high winds, and the snow gates were closed at Cock Bridge in Aberdeenshire.

There was also “carnage” on roads in the Tayside area, according to a Police Scotland spokesman who advised drivers to avoid the area. Two lorries collided, blocking both carriageways five miles south of the House of Bruar on the A9 southbound. No-one was injured.

First Minister Alex Salmond chaired a Scottish Government resilience committee meeting yesterday to assess how prepared Scotland is for the potential impact of the forecast weather.

The meeting, which involved the Met Office, Scottish Environment Protection Agency and Transport Scotland, heard there would be an amber warning for parts of Dumfries and Galloway, and three yellow warnings in Scotland overnight and into today, with the red warning restricted to south of the Border.

A UK government minister last night warned there was no “blank cheque” to pay for repairing the damage of weeks of storms and floods that have affected parts of the country. Prime Minister David Cameron, who chaired a meeting of the government’s Cobra emergencies committee in 10 Downing Street, promised on Tuesday that “money is no object” in offering relief to those affected.

However, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin indicated there would be “careful consideration” before money was spent on the larger rebuilding exercise of restoring damaged infrastructure after water levels recede.

Contaminated crops warning

ALLOTMENT owners and gardeners hit by flooding have been warned against eating fruit and vegetable crops that could have been contaminated by sewage.

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) issued the warning as it set out advice for gardeners on coping with flooding, which is set to linger into the spring when people will be starting to sow and plant flowers and food crops.

The chief horticultural adviser at the RHS, Guy Barter, said: “Once the water goes down, the soil will be ready to sow and plant after a few days. There could be rubbish to pick up and people have got to be aware of contamination from sewage.

“The soil won’t be damaged beyond repair, although nutrients will be washed away so investment in fertilisers is a good idea.”

Edible crops close to being harvested should not be eaten in case floodwater was contaminated, the RHS advised. Crops that are eaten raw should not be harvested for another six months.

Environment Agency staff face abuse from victims of flooding

STAFF from the Environment Agency are not being sent to a flood-hit area because of the high levels of hostility they have faced.

It is understood that staff were abused in the Wraysbury area of Berkshire, and have now been told to report any incidents to the agency.

Justin Bowden, national officer of the GMB union, said: “This report of hostility from the residents on the Thames is a direct result of the irresponsible attack by Eric Pickles (the Communities Secretary) and others on the EA. His incitement has led to the very people on the front line who are actually helping to alleviate the situation bearing the brunt of people’s frustrations.

“For more than seven weeks since Christmas, the EA’s staff have been run ragged helping and supporting the victims of flooding. GMB members have been working double and triple shifts around the clock to protect and assist.”

The GMB said David Cameron had repeatedly refused to say whether he would halt planned redundancies at the EA. Grants to the agency have been cut in real terms by more than a quarter over the past three years, said the union.

Mr Bowden added: “The government must immediately reverse the ludicrous cut of 1,700 EA jobs, followed by an independent inquiry into what are the realistic funding levels necessary to ensure the EA has both the capital budget to protect the country from flooding and drought, and a big enough revenue budget to maintain, service and run these vital defences.”