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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 August 2004, 02:35 GMT 03:35 UK
Dozens rescued from flash floods
Helicopter over Boscastle
People were left trapped in cars, homes and trees
A major rescue operation is continuing in north Cornwall, where flash floods have devastated a coastal village.

Heavy storms on Monday afternoon caused 6cm (2ins) of rain to fall in two hours in the Boscastle area.

Seven rescue helicopters were scrambled to winch people stranded on rooftops and in cars to safety.

Rescue workers described the situation as "horrendous" as buildings and cars were washed into the sea, and up to 1,000 people may have to be evacuated.

Michael Mulford, spokesman for RAF Kinloss which is co-ordinating the military rescue effort, said hundreds more people could need air-lifting from the flood-stricken area.

Buildings collapsed

"We have to consider the possibility we may have many hundreds, up to theoretically, 1,000 people who may need rescuing.

"This is the biggest combined incident we have had in many, many years. It is very seldom we have more than two helicopters at one scene. To get seven is remarkable."

Cars washed away

Three people were officially classified as missing on Monday evening were later accounted for, although police said it was still very difficult to establish if any more were unaccounted for.

Superintendent Jon Wotton said the operation being carried out by the emergency services would carry on all night.

Around six buildings had collapsed due to the force of the water, and over an estimated 50 cars had been swept away, he said.

In all, more than 60 people were evacuated from the village, and some had been airlifted to the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro to be treated for minor injuries and shock.

The area around Boscastle has been cordoned off and police have appealed for sightseers to stay away.

The force's emergency response plan has been put into action, co-ordinated from police headquarters in Exeter.

'Horrendous' situation

The police have urged people to remain calm and avoid the area. They are setting up an emergency number for people worried about friends and relatives.

Rescue workers described the situation at Boscastle as "horrendous" as buildings and cars were washed into the sea.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott is visiting the scene to offer his support to the emergency services.

The floods come exactly 52 years to the day after floods swept through Lynmouth, in Devon, killing 12 people.

BBC Spotlight Cornwall reporter David George said: "There is no electricity or power in the area. A number of properties have been completely washed away and, at one point, a 10-foot wave came down one street. "

This is the biggest combined incident we have had in many, many years
Michael Munford

"Huge trees lying in the street are being washed into the river and three shops are completely gone, either under water or washed away. "

In places, so much water flowed down streets that roads came up and were broken. People abandoned cars on both sides of the road.

Nigel Doyle, landlord of The Darlington Inn in nearby Camelford, said sandbags were being put in place to protect properties from the swollen River Camel.

Vulnerable to elements

He said: "The emergency services are out and they are sandbagging certain houses because the river is going at full flow. There is a lot of flood water out on the streets.

"I couldn't see out the car earlier and we had to drive about 5mph to get through it. It is the heaviest rain I have ever been out in."

Margaret Hunter, owner of the Tintagel Arms Hotel, said the rain had been "exceptional".

She said: "It has been torrential. Really, really heavy rain and storms with water running down the village. I was amazed at the volume of rain."

The village is one of Cornwall's most picturesque and historic tourist spots, but its position deep in a steep valley may have left it vulnerable to the elements.

Boscastle stands in a deep coomb where two valleys meet, formed by the rivers Valency and Jordan. A third river, Paradise, also flows through the village.

Devon and Cornwall police have set up an emergency phoneline for anyone concerned about friends or relatives - 01392 451130.

Have you been affected by the floods? Tell us about your experience using the form below - or send any photos and comments to yourpics@bbc.co.uk

I was scheduled to make a journey to Boscastle this evening. After seeing the amount of rain coming down and being flagged down by a policeman just outside the village, I made the decision to abort my journey. It was horrendous. I am still shocked.
Danko Jones, Tiverton, Devon

Daughter, son-in-law and baby granddaughter staying in cottage in Boscastle. We have not been able to make contact on either of their mobiles. Mobile service in Cornwall is never very good. We are anxiously waiting to hear from them.
Bob and Morwenna Semos, Sidcup, England

My brother and his wife were staying in one of the holiday cottages for their wedding anniversary, and just got out in time as the flood waters were rising. All their possessions were washed away, but they are both fine.

My aunt, who used to be the warden at the youth hostel (building nearest to the harbour, under water) also escaped, but her car was washed away. I have stayed in Boscastle many times, and was in the youth hostel when the remains of hurricane Lili hit in 1996 with 90mph winds, partially flooding the harbour up to the lower window sills on the youth hostel, and I thought that was bad enough, but this is devastating! It'll never be the same again.
Ben Wassell, Canterbury, Kent, UK

I've never seen weather so bad, the postman couldn't get to the house, the water was so high, I feel really sorry for anyone that got affected by it, I hope school will be ok for when I go back.
Alex Mills, Boscastle

The BBC's Janet Barrie
"Local hospitals are on major incident standby"

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