Page last updated at 21:20 GMT, Friday, 20 November 2009

Body found in floods search is missing policeman


An RAF Sea King was used to rescue residents in Cockermouth

The body found after a bridge collapsed when major floods struck across Cumbria has been confirmed as a policeman who was swept away while directing traffic.

Pc Bill Barker, 44, fell into the River Derwent when the A597 bridge was destroyed by floods in Workington.

Cumbria Police said father-of-four Pc Barker had been helping motorists off the bridge when it collapsed.

He had been an officer with the force for 25 years and would have celebrated his 45th birthday on Saturday.

Cumbria Police chief constable Craig Mackey said: "It is with deep sadness that I can confirm that the body found on a beach at Allonby this afternoon is that of our friend and colleague Pc Bill Barker."

Pc Bill Barker
Pc Bill Barker was swept off a bridge in Workington

Pc Barker had been called to the scene with a colleague to try to protect members of the public.

Eyewitness Brendan Pickering was turned away from the bridge, which is thought to have carried gas pipes, moments before it collapsed.

He said: "....The young police lady shouted 'Come off the bridge'. Just as we turned round a full section of the bridge went."

"When I looked over I could still see the police lights flashing. Just at that the young lass said 'Can you come off the bridge right away', and I could smell a wrench of gas - it was unbelievable."

Mr Pickering said he was helping police to stop traffic driving onto the bridge when he heard one say: "One of our officers has gone in."

The Prime Minister is among those who have paid tribute to Pc Barker, calling him a "heroic, very brave man who died trying to save the lives of others".

The Met Office said rainfall in parts of Cumbria had been some of the heaviest on record.

Workington man Brendan Pickering saw the bridge collapse, killing Pc Barker

Up to 1,000 properties are thought to have been flooded across the county, according to the Environment Agency, which has received more than 12,000 calls from members of the public.

A spokesman described the deluge as "a one-in-a-thousand-year flood".

Up to 500 people are estimated to be in emergency shelters, with Cockermouth and Keswick the hardest hit.

Rescuers worked through the night to reach people who were trapped in their homes.

The RAF, RNLI, mountain rescue teams and emergency services, helped move about 200 people from Cockermouth after parts of the town were left more than 2.5m (8ft 2in) under water.

The first thing obviously is to make sure that people are looked after immediately
Hilary Benn, Environment Minister

Cockermouth School has been housing 110 evacuees and the Sheep and Wool Centre in the town accommodated 100 people.

More than 50 people rescued in Keswick have been taken to the town's convention centre, Skiddaw Hotel and St Joseph's school.

Police have warned people to stay away from bridges after water pressure also destroyed the Southwaite footbridge in Cockermouth and the nearby Lorton Bridge.

Cumbria County Council has reported the bridge at Braithwaite in Keswick as collapsed, with water being diverted by rubble across the A66.

More than 1,400 homes are without power in the county, several major roads are closed and more than 70 schools have been shut.

Environment Minister Hilary Benn, who visited Cockermouth on Friday, said the prime minister had pledged to do everything possible to help.

Rescue workers search Cockermouth High Street in a boat on Friday morning

He said: "The first thing obviously is to make sure that people are looked after immediately.

"Secondly the regional development agency, with government funding, has announced a contribution of £1m to support businesses that have been affected.

"My cabinet colleague John Denham activated the emergency funding rules to help local authorities with the cost of the clean-up this morning. So we have done that straight away."

RAF squadron leader Dave Webster said the air search and rescue operation aiding people in towns including Keswick and Cockermouth was beginning to wind down, although a helicopter would remain on standby.

Cumbria Police has opened a casualty bureau, for members of the public to telephone should they have any concerns regarding relatives, friends and family involved in the flooding incident.

Firefighters and RNLI personnell rescue Pat Edwards, aged 81, from her home in the centre of Cockermouth
Firefighters and RNLI personnel rescued people from their homes

But the Environment Agency said the situation across the county was beginning to improve with most river levels slowly falling.

Spokesman David Falcon said: "The outlook for today is pretty good as it is just showers, our only concern at present is the rainfall that is forecast for tomorrow.

"About 40mm is predicted, which is nothing like the levels experienced over the past 48 hours, but of course it is falling on saturated ground."

Four severe flood warnings remain in place on rivers in Cockermouth, Keswick and Eamont Bridge.

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