Page last updated at 02:02 GMT, Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Storm brings floods to UK areas


A woman stranded in her car by the floods is rescued by the fire service in an inflatable boat

Parts of southern Britain have been hit by flooding in the wake of a storm which unleashed heavy rain, strong winds and snow.

About 140 homes in Gloucestershire are still without electricity after snow swept from Wales into the Midlands.

Emergency services handled hundreds of flood-related calls and the Environment Agency said 61 flood warnings remain in place, mostly in eastern England.

But it says water levels are receding and the number of warnings has dropped.

Forecasters say the worst of the weather appears to be over.

On Wednesday, cloud and some wintry showers are forecast to push south over England and Wales and there will be sunshine in the north with some showers on the east coast.

The Environment Agency said a combination of weather conditions - including heavy rain, snow melt and "tide-locking" of rivers caused by high tides - had caused the flooding in southern England.

Weather map 0600 Wednesday
BBC weather map for 0600 GMT

It had issued more than 300 flood warnings or lesser alerts at the height of the threat.

Councils are nevertheless preparing in case of a return of last week's snow, with a salt ship due to arrive in the UK from Germany on Wednesday to replace stocks of salt used up gritting the country's roads.

At one point on Tuesday, London's Thames Barrier was closed for several hours - for the first time since last March - to protect the city from a rising tide.

It warned the barrier may have to be closed again on Wednesday morning.

Flooding and heavy snow led to roads being closed in areas including Oxfordshire, Somerset, Devon, Cornwall, Hampshire and Sussex.

The MP for Castle Point in Essex, UKIP's Bob Spink, called on the government to make an urgent statement on flooding in the county, where many homes were under water.

Electricity supplies to up to 3,000 homes in Gloucestershire, Worcestershire and Herefordshire were cut off at one stage, largely because of the weather.

Monthly rainfall

Emily Highmore, of energy company Central Networks, said the problems were caused by large volumes of snow landing on equipment, or by snow weighing down tree branches which then brought down overhead lines.

The firm said on its website fewer than 150 homes remained without power overnight. Engineers are working to restore supplies.

As heavy rain swept across southern England, some areas recorded close to their monthly average rainfall for February in just 24 hours.

Shoreham, in West Sussex, saw 1.6in (4.1cm) of rain between 0600 GMT on Monday and 0600 GMT on Tuesday - the average monthly rainfall in Sussex is 2.2in (5.7cm).

And Northolt, in Middlesex, over the same period had 1.52in (3.8cm) of rain, while the monthly average for the area is 1.53in (3.9cm).

Snow and ice forced the closure of 76 schools in the south-east of Wales and 52 in Gloucestershire, while 70 were shut in Northamptonshire with all school transport cancelled.

250 emergency calls to Essex Police
160 fire and rescue callouts, West Sussex
70 fire and rescue callouts, East Sussex
52 Gloucestershire schools closed
4.7in (12cm) of snow in Bristol
2.3in (6cm) of rain in Scilly Isles
50mph winds in coastal areas
Scotland temperatures fell to -14C

Fire crews in Somerset had to rescue about 20 people from their cars in flood waters in Taunton and Yeovil and some rivers in the county, including the Cam in West Camel, have burst their banks.

Both bridges over the Severn Estuary have reopened after falling ice meant they had to be closed overnight on Monday.

The River Colne in Hertfordshire burst its banks, with some areas under four feet of water.

Trains between Stevenage and London King's Cross were delayed because of a signalling problem caused by flooding at Potters Bar.

The effects of the weather also affected Virgin services from London Euston, while flooding was causing delays and diversions to First Great Western trains between Exeter St David's and London Paddington.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) said its members would take action as soon as possible to help customers hit by the bad weather.

Nick Starling, the ABI's director of general insurance and health, said: "Insurers plan for bad weather and will have arrangements in place to minimise distress and inconvenience and help people recover as quickly as possible."

Mr Starling said people with damaged property should contact their insurers as quickly as possible, adding that they should make temporary repairs to stop further damage and keep the receipts.

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