Page last updated at 22:55 GMT, Sunday, 22 November 2009

Cumbria flood bridges facing safety checks

Chief Supt Steve Johnson warns against non-essential travel

A safety review of all 1,800 bridges in Cumbria is being carried out after severe flooding caused extensive damage to homes and roads in the county.

Six bridges have already collapsed and Calva Bridge in Workington, which may be about to fall, has been condemned.

Some residents are spending a fourth night away from their homes and many roads remain impassable.

More than 1,300 homes were affected and people have been advised not to return. Much of the UK faces more heavy rain.

Meanwhile, in Powys, the search for a woman who was swept along the River Usk in Brecon has been called off for the night.

In Devon, canoeist Chris Wheeler, 46, from Reading, Berkshire, died after being pulled from the River Dart on Saturday.

He had become caught against a tree in stormy weather. Two others were airlifted to hospital suffering from hypothermia.

Warnings in place

There are currently 21 flood warnings in force across northern parts of England, Scotland and Wales.

There is also a Met Office warning for localised flooding in western counties of Northern Ireland.

Chris Freer on Cockermouth High Street
Chris Freer
Cockermouth resident

We're staying at a friend's house as we were phoning around all the estate agencies trying to find accommodation but nothing was available.

The estate agents are out of action as they can't get into their offices.

We need to get back to Cockermouth and we need to support the community to get it up and running.

Personal items don't really matter, we are more concerned about the community getting pulled apart and separated.

We've lost everything downstairs so we've got to take care of that.

We don't know what timescale we're on but we can't expect to be back in until well after Christmas.

River levels have subsided and now just one "severe" flood warning - meaning a threat of "extreme danger to life and property" is posed - applies to parts of the River Eamont in Cumbria.

An Environment Agency spokesman said: "We are now assessing the damage and checking flood defences, and will be working with emergency services and local authorities to get people back into their homes as quickly as possible.

"While conditions in Cumbria are improving, more heavy rain is forecast."

Police said a total of 16 bridges and at least 25 roads were closed, including Greta Bridge in Kewsick where businesses and properties were evacuated to allow the structure to be checked.

There is likely to be widespread disruption on Monday, with local journey times from Cockermouth more than doubled when the bridges are closed.

Cumbria County Council said 13 primary schools and five secondary schools would be shut, although the majority hope to reopen on Tuesday.

Police say they are closely monitoring Calva Bridge in Workington, which is part of the A596, and engineers say it will have to be taken down if it does not fall.

Professor Roger Falconer, a water management specialist at Cardiff University, said the force of the water swirling around the bridge's pillars was undermining the foundations.

Chief Superintendent Steve Johnson said people were still using bridges as vantage points, which was risking not only their lives but those of the emergency services.

"If people don't need to travel, don't make non-essential journeys," he added.

Guy Broster, from Cockermouth, is a teacher at Nelson Thomlinson School in Wigton.

Cockermouth High Street
Cumbria Police casualty bureau: 0800 0560944 or 0207 1580010
Floodline number 0845 988 1188
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His usual journey to work is 15 miles and takes 20 minutes, but as the two main bridges out of Cockermouth are closed, he now has to take an alternative route which is 40 miles.

He said: "The traffic is going to be horrendous, it could take several hours to get in."

In the worst-hit areas, fire crews and structural engineers are continuing work to ensure buildings are safe.

Meanwhile, some 29,000 people have paid tribute on Facebook to Pc Bill Barker, who was killed in the early hours of Friday when a bridge outside Workington collapsed.

A minute's silence was held during services at St Michael's church in Workington in tribute to Pc Barker.

The Bishop of Carlisle James Newcombe praised the "grit, resilience and astonishing sense of humour" of people in the area, as churches around the country offered prayers for the flood-stricken communities.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited the area on Saturday and pledged £1m for flooded communities.

More heavy showers

United Utilities says 40 waste treatment works which have been put out of action should be in service within three days. Tap water is safe to drink, the firm says.

Recovery efforts may be hampered by further rain, following on from the record 314.4mm (12.4in) that fell at Seathwaite Farm in Cumbria over 24 hours before the weekend.

Forecasters say Sunday night will bring more heavy showers, with 20 to 30mm of rain in the county. There will be fewer showers on Monday.

Much of north-west England, south-west Scotland and Northern Ireland faces similar showers and gales.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency, which has issued four flood warnings covering the Ayrshire coast and rivers Tay, Isla and Earn, said rain on Sunday would cause water levels to rise again.

However, it said flooding on the scale of Friday - when up to 40 businesses in Dumfries were flooded and about a dozen of the area's roads were closed - was unlikely.

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