Page last updated at 09:58 GMT, Monday, 23 November 2009

Cumbria flood areas face school and road closures

Shop front in Cockermouth
Cockermouth town centre remains cordoned off

Thousands of people in flood-stricken communities are starting the working week amid widespread disruption.

Sixteen bridges and at least 25 roads are closed in Cumbria, where once-short commutes could involve lengthy detours.

Five secondary schools and 13 primaries in the county are shut, with many homes and businesses still cut off. About 60 people remain in reception centres.

Flood warnings are in force in 22 areas of the UK but forecasters say Monday's showers should not raise river levels.

In Cumbria, river levels have subsided and now just one of the warnings is "severe" - indicating a threat of "extreme danger to life and property". It applies to parts of the River Eamont.

River search

Six flood warnings apply to Scotland, 10 to north-west England and two to the Midlands.

Four have been issued for Wales where, in Powys, a search has resumed for a 21-year-old woman who was swept along the River Usk in Brecon on Saturday night.

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

My major concern at the moment is residents who are cut off, people who are struggling to find food
Tony Cunningham MP

Work continues on a safety review of all 1,800 bridges in Cumbria, where six crossings have already collapsed and Calva Bridge in Workington, which is also in danger of crumbling, has been condemned.

Its closure means people in Northside face a 40-mile detour just to get to the town centre.

Twenty-five soldiers, from 39 Regiment the Royal Artillery, had been sent to flood-hit areas to assist the emergency services, a Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said.

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.

Hundreds of people across the county have been staying with friends and relatives since more than 1,300 homes were flooded by record daily rainfall last Thursday and Friday.

Many are still unable to return home and the Environment Agency has warned the buildings may not be structurally sound.

'Increasingly desperate'

Jill Stannard, who was appointed chief executive of Cumbria County Council on Thursday, said fewer than 50 people remained unaccounted for.

She said they might have gone to stay with friends and urged them to make their whereabouts known if they had not been in touch with their families.

Ms Stannard said the council was working with the NHS and volunteers to get prescriptions and medication to anyone cut off by the floods.

She urged residents of the county to get the latest information from local radio and not to listen to "rumour or gossip".

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."

Workington MP Tony Cunningham said the situation was becoming "increasingly desperate" in some areas.

"My major concern at the moment is residents who are cut off, people who are struggling to find food," he said.

Cockermouth High Street
Cumbria Police casualty bureau: 0800 0560944 or 0207 1580010
Floodline number 0845 988 1188
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"We have concerns about people who have prescriptions, about medication. I'm told that the community centre there is down to their last few nappies for babies... their last few jars of baby food."

He said the lack of bridges meant people were being forced to travel 90 miles for a journey that would usually take a minute-and-a-half and said temporary structures may be needed.

Cockermouth town centre has been cordoned off by police as surveyors, structural engineers, utility workers and Environment Agency staff continue their clean-up work.

County councillor, Eric Nicholson, said travel would be "more or less impossible" and that many bridge inspections could not be carried out until water levels had dropped.

"It will be absolute chaos," he added.

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

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."

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