The West is on a Christmas Eve high flood alert after a day of storms, road chaos, blocked roads, high winds and torrential rain battered the region yesterday and last night.
All the region's main rivers had flood alerts and warnings from the Environment Agency, with residents living in flood-prone properties praying for respite or facing a Christmas Eve and Christmas Day preparing for the worst.
The manic Monday before Christmas yesterday saw major travel disruption, with trains cancelled, bridges closed and dozens of roads closed by fallen trees, as emergency services struggled to cope with the damage and disruption caused by the major storm. Wind speeds of up to 70mph swept up the Bristol Channel, off the Dorset coast and blew trees down across Somerset, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire.
Shoppers braving the elements were met by blocked roads, either from fallen trees or localised floods, and many supermarkets reported panic buying as people cleared out the shelves with more storms forecast. The Severn Bridge was closed to high-sided vehicles for much of the day and into last night, while First Great Western reported a reducing service as the high winds strengthened yesterday evening.
The Highways Agency and the AA advised people travelling long distances to family for Christmas to take extra time and care, and visitors at a host of tourist destinations – from Avebury's National Trust facilities to Longleat's Safari Park – were left disappointed.
Longleat closed the Safari Park and much of its Christmas-themed attractions on what was supposed to be one of the busiest days of the season, because of what it described as 'severe weather conditions'.
The M5 saw miles of tailbacks between Portishead and Clevedon as drivers heading for a Christmas getaway were stuck following an accident on the northbound side. While crashes and fallen trees blocked A-roads around Burnham, Wellington, Bath, Hinton Charterhouse, Timsbury and on the A303 in Wiltshire.
In east Wiltshire, police reported they were dealing with fallen trees on five A-roads, a B-road and a country lane, all around Marlborough, while fallen trees were also the biggest hazard on the roads in south Wiltshire and Dorset.
As the storm died down in the early hours of this morning, the Environment Agency warned that the pulses of torrential rain which lashed the region overnight would cause flooding problems on Christmas Eve and potentially into Christmas Day.
At Malmesbury in Wiltshire, residents of St John's Street are preparing for their first Christmas back in their homes after the floods of 13 months ago, but are nervously eyeing the River Avon.
The town, high up on the Cotswolds near the source of the Bristol Avon, is often the first place to see damaging floods, and the Environment Agency issued a warning there last night.
"Persistent sometimes heavy, rain is currently spreading north-eastwards across the region," the EA said as darkness fell yesterday. "This is accompanied by gale to severe gale force southerly winds. The heaviest and most persistent rain should clear eastwards during late Monday afternoon for a time. However, further heavy rain is forecast for this evening, before finally clearing through in the early hours of Tuesday morning. River levels on the Tetbury Avon at Brokenborough, Sherston Avon at Fosseway, River Avon at Great Somerford and Dauntsey Brook at Dauntsey are rising," they warned.
Further west, the storms caused major disruption in Devon and Cornwall, with train services and power supplies affected, and in the North West a man's body was pulled from the Rothay River in Ambleside, Cumbria. Around 2,700 properties were left without electricity yesterday, as gale-force winds and persistent rain battered the far south west of England.
The Tamar Bridge, linking Devon and Cornwall, was also closed to high-sided vehicles, caravans and motorbikes.