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'Flooding some of the worst the West Country has seen'

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: January 14, 2014

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The flooding that has left huge areas of the West Country under water for weeks is officially the worst ever – and there is more rain to come this week.

As forecasters warned of heavy rain tomorrow when yet another deep Atlantic low sweeps across the West, the Environment Agency admitted the flooding on the Somerset Levels is the worst it has ever seen.

Agency officials said that the water which has swamped the region will take weeks to remove, and in some places, pumps cannot operate because river levels are still too high as there is simply nowhere to evacuate the water to.

They said last year's flood on the Somerset moors and Levels had been the worst on record – until this year.

"This is now the biggest ever flooding event in this area in terms of extent and volume." said an Environment Agency spokesman.

According to estimates made by the agency, the Somerset Levels are under 65 million cubic metres of water – an astonishing amount given a single cubic metre is equivalent to 220 gallons.

A total of 62 pumps have been deployed, although only 32 are running with more expected to be brought on line as river levels drop.

The Environment Agency said extra staff had been drafted in and that every day they were meeting with people who had suffered because of the flooding.

"Our people are out doing their job and they are very aware of the distress, upset and anxiety that people are experiencing," the spokesman explained.

"They are making contact with people hour by hour who are feeling the pain of this event," he added.

Last night the Met Office predicted a "normal week of January weather" for the rest of this week – and that is bad news for the flooded communities as it involves two deep Atlantic weather systems, one tomorrow and one on Friday, sweeping across the region with further heavy and prolonged rain for most of Wednesday, along with high wind, although today is forecast to be largely dry.

The forecast is bad news for communities in south Wiltshire too, where floods are still a big problem.

The main route to the South West from London, the A303, partially reopened yesterday after four days of being blocked by floods near Deptford in the Wylye Valley, while residents of Tilshead, one of the most remote communities on Salisbury Plain have been imposing their own traffic controls in a bid to cut down on flood damage.

The main A360 road between Devizes and Salisbury runs through the village, alongside what is normally a small stream. It has burst its banks and flooded the road, and the six-inch deep water is being washed into homes along the roadside by drivers going too fast through the flood.

Residents complained that Wiltshire Council had not supplied them with sandbags quickly enough, but yesterday they arrived with traffic lights and sandbags and took over the impromptu job.

It was taking drivers 45 minutes to get through the small village at rush hour yesterday as a result of the floods and the restrictions that were being put in place.

In Gloucestershire, campaigners are demanding millions be spent raising a section of the main A417 road between Gloucester and the villages to the west of the city, after it was closed for weeks because of flooding.

The road at Maisemore only reopened yesterday, forcing drivers travelling to Hartpury, Newent, Maisemore and Ashleworth to risk small country lanes, as the Severn burst its banks.

There could be more problems there later this week if the Severn rises again with the amount of rain due to fall in Wales in the coming few days, but local business leaders and residents have called for long-term action to stop the floods that have been impacting on their lives.

"We've been told it would be too expensive to raise the road, but something needs to be done as it was chaos there last week," said Julie Smee, from Gloucester Minibuses.

"People need to get to work, school and college.

"When the A417 is closed there is a big knock-on effect to the community," she added.

Now residents of all the flood-hit communities are hoping that the temporary respite of the weekend, coupled with what is forecast to be a dry day today, will see river levels drop far enough for tomorrow's storm to not cause a return of the nightmares of the past few weeks.

John Curtin, head of incident response at the Environment Agency, said: "There is a continued risk of flooding in southern England, especially Dorset, south Wiltshire, Somerset and the Thames Valley, and we urge people to remain vigilant and prepared to take action."

One walker on Dartmoor yesterday failed to take heed of the advice, and found herself in deep trouble.

The pensioner was rescued by police after she got trapped in a marshy bog – up to her waist.

The stricken lady, in her 70s, was walking near her Devonhome when she became stuck in deep mud.

She dialled 999 but struggled to get through due to poor phone reception and after several calls was heard to say "it's now up to my" before the line went dead. Devon and Cornwall Police deployed a helicopter and at 2.42pm on Saturday the crew spotted the woman.

With assistance from a family of farmers, officers managed to reach the woman and extract her from the mud.

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