Flooding misery returned to the West yesterday – and worse is due to come as the nightmare prospect of a washed out Christmas, rather than a white one, starts to become a reality.
People already hit by flooding face a bleak Christmas, with a week of further rain threatening more holiday misery. Large parts of the UK – and particularly the South West and Wales – will see unsettled weather throughout the festive period, according to forecaster Meteogroup.
Experts predicted that hours of heavy rain in the early hours of this morning and throughout Christmas Eve will mean flood chaos returning after an earlier peak late on Saturday in Devon and west Somerset, and in the early hours of yesterday morning further north in Wiltshire and Gloucestershire.
Emergency crews worked around the clock with dramatic rescues of stranded motorists across Somerset yesterday, while travellers on a decimated railway network struggled to make it to their destinations in time for Christmas Eve today.
Yesterday the Met Office issued yet another severe weather warning for heavy rain expected to arrive early this morning, and the Environment Agency said the resulting floods today could be just as bad, if not worse, than those of late November.
John Curtin, the head of incident management at the Environment Agency, said: “Our teams are out around the clock to minimise the risks and prepare for flooding, clearing drainage channels and ensuring that flood defences are working properly.
“We would urge people in at risk areas to keep up to date with the latest situation by checking the Environment Agency website and remain prepared for flooding in their area by signing up to receive free flood warnings.
“With a very busy travel day coming up, we would also ask that people check their route before travelling, and remember not to drive or walk through flood water,” he warned.
The head of special operations at the AA, Darron Burness, said motorists may have to abandon plans to drive to relatives elsewhere in the South West today. “The run-up to Christmas is one of the busiest times of the year for traffic so any bad weather can have a big impact on the roads. Even if you know your local roads, don’t be complacent.
“Keep tuned to local weather forecasts from the Met Office and travel reports and if it’s bad where you are, only travel if it’s essential. If you do head out, allow more time for your journey as you don't want to rush in conditions like this,” he added.
The worst hit places over the weekend were Helston in Cornwall and Braunton in North Devon, which saw three-feet high water inundate the High Street. Across the Somerset border in Dulverton, householders had to be rescued by firefighters.
Elsewhere in Somerset, emergency crews saved motorists stranded in three cars in Perry New Road in Brushford, and a man whose car was stuck in Chilton Cantelo, near Yeovil.
Roads across Somerset and Wiltshire were closed by police, who warned drivers not to attempt to make it through the standing water. The main A359 at Sparkford was closed, as was the A361 between Burrow Bridge and East Lyng, which was only recently re-opened from November’s floods.
The road down Cheddar Gorge – the B3135 – was closed, as heavy rain threatened rockfalls, and the road flooded at the bottom.
In Wiltshire, the River Avon burst its banks all the way from Sherston to Bradford, with householders in Malmesbury already hit by floods four weeks ago once again fearing the worst.
The town’s football club was flooded again, and members of Malmesbury’s Warden and Freemen, who are landlords to many of the properties in St John’s Street hit badly last month, mounted an emergency operation in the early hours of yesterday morning to save the giant de-humidifiers they had set up in all the homes.
"The water came up to within six feet of the front door of one of the homes, but it’s not come any further,” said Steve Paginton, one of those who worked through the night. “We’re looking at the forecast now, though, and expecting the worst,” he added.
Click here for the latest Somerset weather forecast.
For the latest information on flood warnings and alerts in the region, click on the Environment Agency panel below.