Page last updated at 11:36 GMT, Monday, 23 November 2009

Flood victims allowed back home

Collapsed A597 Northside Bridge in Workington
Workington has been split in two by collapsed and closed bridges

Residents and business owners are being allowed back into their properties which were affected by devastating floods in Cumbria.

Police reopened 900 properties in Cockermouth, but said they would need to be checked before people re-entered.

Cumbria county council has said the cost of damage from the floods has run into tens of millions of pounds.

Chief executive Jill Stannard said she was in talks with ministers to seek financial support for the clear-up.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has already pledged £1m to help affected areas.

Major Phillip Curtis said the armed forces were working for a return to normality

Police have set up check points on four routes into Cockermouth and there are plans to allocate a United Utilities officer and a structural engineer to each property to ensure it is safe for entry.

A Cumbria Police spokesman said: "Many homes will be contaminated, some walls and structures may be unstable and electricity supplies may dangerous.

"All of these things must be checked before people can re-enter their property."

Ms Stannard said many people were "very frightened" about access to healthcare in areas cut off in the wake of the destruction, which hit parts of the county from Friday.

She said: "We have been reaching people over the weekend. People get very frightened - totally understandably because this is very traumatic.

"It is important that people listen to advice through the media and don't listen to rumour and gossip."

The Environment Agency said between 50mm to 100mm of rain could fall in parts of the county on Tuesday, but any flooding is not expected to be on the scale of last week.

A severe flood warning is currently in place on low lying land and roads next to the River Eamont at Eamont Bridge, Kemplay Foot, Skirsgill Lane and Southwaite Green Mill.

Ch Supt Steve Johnson said he understood it would be an emotional time for many residents

Thousands of people across the county are facing travel chaos with 16 bridges out of action and at least 25 roads closed.

Commuters are facing long detours to reach some towns and villages cut off by the destruction.

Structural engineers and military experts are carrying out an urgent safety review of 1,800 bridges.

Five secondary schools and 13 primary schools in the county are shut.

County councillor Duncan Stewart Fairbairn said: "There aren't many roads in this county that don't have a bridge of one description or other.

"It is going to be chaos. You have people in the service industries, those working in care, policemen and teachers. And some will be travelling quite long distances.

"It will be a logistical nightmare."

The town of Workington has been split in two after the collapse of the Northside bridge on Friday and the closure of the Calva bridge, which has been condemned and is feared to be on the brink of collapse.

Ch Supt Steve Johnson, of Cumbria Police, said: "Our understanding is that it either may fall down or need significant repair to get it working again.

Rescue workers search Cockermouth High Street in a boat on Friday morning
Cumbria Police casualty bureau: 0800 0560944 or 0207 1580010
Floodline number 0845 988 1188
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"That is going to cause disruption for some time into the future.

"There are some big employers on the north side and Workington side and we are aware that there will be a big volume of vehicles on the A66 and A595 now they are open again.

"We are asking people if they need to travel to travel with care."

He said people on the north side of the town still had access routes to supermarkets in Maryport and the Cockermouth area.

Tony Cunningham, MP for Workington, said anyone wishing to get to Seaton now faced a 90 mile journey instead of a trip that would normally take a few minutes.

"We have concerns about people who have not got prescriptions, medication because the medical centre is down to its last nappies for babies," he said.

"I spoke to residents...they are distraught at what's happening, the police station is out of circulation because they have been flooded so it is difficult for the police.

"My major concern is residents who are cut off. Things are getting desperate."

He said he had spoken to the Army about the possibility of makeshift bridges being erected while those which have been destroyed are rebuilt.

Hundreds of people across the county have been staying with friends and relatives since the record daily rainfall of Thursday and Friday last week led to the flooding of more than 1,300 homes.

Flood claims

Chris Freer, who was rescued from his home in Cockermouth along with his wife, nine-month old baby and the family's dogs, said he did not know when they would be able to return.

"We were trying to get in yesterday, we tried quite a few times but obviously they sealed it off for reasons safety reasons which we have to respect," he said.

"We've only got the bare minimum that we came out with so we need to get in and basically get some of the baby stuff out.

"But people have been so generous. They've basically lent us a buggy and some clothes and some food and it's been absolutely superb how the community's rallied round."

The shadow minister for the Environment, Floods and Water is due to visit Cumbria later.

Anne McIntosh will be in Cockermouth, Keswick and Workington to see first-hand the devastation created by the floods.

Flood claims in Cumbria and south Scotland are expected to be in the region of £50m to £100m, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) said.

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