Page last updated at 22:38 GMT, Saturday, 21 November 2009

Prime minister Brown meets Cumbria flood victims


Gordon Brown met people in Cockermouth and saw flood damage

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has met flood victims in Cumbria after England's wettest day on record swamped homes and swept away bridges.

He paid tribute to Pc Bill Barker, who died in the floods, and praised rescue teams for their "superb response".

Mr Brown pledged an extra £1m to help affected areas, as hundreds of people spent a second night away from home.

Meanwhile, a canoeist died after he got into trouble on the swollen River Dart in Devon.

He had to be pulled from the water after getting stuck against a tree in stormy conditions but he died later. Two others were treated for hypothermia.

Chris Eakin surveys the damage to Cockermouth high street

In Cumbria, the full extent of the damage in Cockermouth and Workington was revealed as the floodwaters subsided.

While rainfall has resumed across much of the UK, there has been relief it has not been as severe as feared earlier on Saturday.

There are 22 flood warnings in force across south-western and northern parts of England, Scotland and Wales.

The four "severe" warnings are in Cumbria, where the Environment Agency said river levels were slowly rising again.

The prime minister met members of the emergency services at Penrith police station before heading to Cockermouth, where he spoke to people who had been evacuated from their homes.

He expressed his sympathy for their predicament and reassured them everything was being done to help them.

At the police station in Penrith, he told the emergency services the "whole country" was proud of them.

"What you've done in the last few days is tackle one of the greatest rainfalls we've seen in our country and you've done it with such superb organisation," he said.

'It's hopeless'

One of the residents who had been evacuated, Doris Studholme, 88, said: "This is the second time I have been flooded out - in 2005 I was out for six months. This time it's hopeless. I don't know when I will get back home.

"I've lost everything again. Last time they had to carry me out, this time they came quickly and got us out before the flood."

Jeanette Brown was rescued from her home by a stranger. She told the BBC: "He said put your arms round me and hold tight and don't let go. He struggled to get us to the other side of the yard and hold on to the door.

"If either of us had let go we would have drowned, we would have been carried away over the back. I never even thanked him properly because I was so shocked."

Sarah Mukherjee,
Environment correspondent

While questions have been raised about the speed of the evacuation, Environment Agency officials say they have worked hard to improve flood defences, but the scale of the water simply overwhelmed them.

Engineers say defending homes against this level of flooding would be prohibitably expensive and could completely alter some landscapes.

While no scientists would link a specific period of weather to climate change, meteroligists say their predictions do suggest we can expect more periods of extreme rainfall.

While many of the flood-hit residents have found accommodation with friends and relatives, 94 individuals are left at rest centres.

It was estimated that 1,300 homes across Cumbria were affected by flooding, with several hundred people displaced and more than 1,000 households left without power.

The first pictures of Cockermouth's Main Street show it strewn with debris. Shop windows are smashed and cars dented, illustrating the force of the flood water.

Residents and owners of businesses are yet to see the damage on the street, which is littered with displaced items including sand, bricks, a washing machine and a bike.

Council workers, police officers, fire crews, paramedics and the RNLI are stationed in car parks as the town begins the clear-up and braces itself for more downpours.

Chief Supt Steve Johnson said the emergency services would carry out a search of 800 premises on Saturday to confirm they are empty or check on the welfare of those who had stayed in their homes.

"We're getting a true sight of it now the water has receded and there's a lot of work for people to do.

"It's a slow, methodical search but we want them to be safe before we return them to owners."

Less intense downpours

The Prime Minister has ordered an urgent review of bridges in Cumbria.

The Highways Agency will look at the major trunk roads for which they are responsible and the Department of Transport will work with the local authority on the ones managed by them.

Walkers have also been asked to avoid the fells, as mountain rescue teams continued to assist in the flood operation.

Tony Cunningham, MP for the Workington constituency - which includes Cockermouth - said help was at hand from the government but it may take months for the recovery to be complete.

Pc Bill Barker

"There are many broken buildings in Cockermouth, but the people are not broken," he added.

Pc Bill Barker was directing motorists off the bridge in Workington when a swollen river caused it to cave in and he was swept away.

His wife Hazel said her husband was "my best friend, my forever friend and an amazing dad".

Cumbria Constabulary said more than 10,000 people had signed up to a tribute on its Facebook page.

In nearby Cockermouth, where water reached 2.5m (8ft 2in), boats and RAF helicopters rescued more than 200 people after rainfall expected for an entire November fell in one day across west Cumbria.

Forecasters say recovery efforts may be hampered by rain through Saturday but that it is unlikely to cause major problems or get near the record 314.4mm (12.3in) for a 24-hour period recorded at Seathwaite Farm.

Cumbria Police casualty bureau: 0800 0560944 or 0207 1580010
Floodline number 0845 988 1188
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The Environment Agency says the severe flood warnings still in place in Cumbria describe conditions posing a threat of "extreme danger to life and property".

As well as the other 13 standard flood warnings, it has issued 33 less serious flood watches across England and Wales.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has six flood warnings and 14 flood watches in force.

Up to 40 businesses were flooded in Dumfries and about a dozen roads in the surrounding area remain closed.

In north and mid-Wales, roads were closed and train services disrupted, and a brief power cut in Anglesey affected 2,000 homes.

The flooding in Cumbria is the latest in a series of severe flooding events to hit the UK in recent years.

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