The West was bracing itself for another deluge last night after a day of floods and gales brought havoc to the region.
Railways and roads were left impassable, homes were flooded, animals rescued and stately homes closed, while the downpours of the weekend – and the forecast for more to come – prompted the shock closure of this week’s Badminton Horse Trials.
After the wettest weekend for a year, more rain was forecast for last night and today, leading to real fears of a repeat of 2007’s widespread flooding in the region. Dozens of rivers were put on flood alert by the Environment Agency, and an emergency incident room was set up by officials to co-ordinate the response to problems.
All eyes were on the River Severn at Tewkesbury, the town which suffered catastrophic flood damage five years ago, but almost all other rivers, from Dorset to the Somerset Levels and from Bristol to the Cotswolds, were ‘worryingly high’ or had burst their banks yesterday. In many places, particularly on the River Frome and the River Tone in Somerset and the River Avon at Lacock and Melksham, fields and roads were flooded.
In Hampshire, a man died after his car became completely submerged in water as he tried to cross a ford. Officers were called to Thornford Road, Compton Wood, after they received reports of the stuck vehicle. A woman was able to escape from the car but the man had to be recovered from it and was pronounced dead at the scene.
The Great Western mainline railway between Swindon and Bristol Parkway was flooded at Chipping Sodbury in South Gloucestershire and closed for most of yesterday, with trains diverted via Patchway in Bristol and a bus service reaching Parkway station itself.
Many roads across Wiltshire and Somerset were blocked by flood water. The A38 between Taunton and Wellington, the A39 west of Bridgwater and the A359 between Mudford and Marston Magna were affected in Somerset. Taunton was badly hit by floodwater yesterday – Vivary Park in the town centre was under water, as was the Taunton Deane cricket ground next door. The River Yarty at Axminster, in East Devon, and sections of the Brue and Doniford in Somerset also had flood alerts as the Environment Agency said that, ironically, the dry ground meant the heavy rain of the weekend was running off the fields more quickly into the rivers than might otherwise have been expected.
Firefighters across the region were busy, dealing with fallen trees on Monday morning and livestock trapped by rising waters throughout yesterday. Rescue crews were called around dawn yesterday to reports of livestock trapped in a field near Glastonbury, while static caravans near Burnham-on-Sea were damaged by high winds.
In Gloucestershire, the unfinished flood defences at Upton-on-Severn had to be shored up temporarily. In Wiltshire, the Bristol Avon and its tributaries in west Wiltshire burst their banks, and flooding and fallen trees blocked roads from Brinkworth in the north to the Wylye Valley in the south. The A36 between Codford and Heytesbury was flooded, as was the main road out of Trowbridge at Staverton.
And although there was some respite from the heavy rain for many areas yesterday afternoon, forecasters predicted even more rain for the rest of the week.
The high winds also caused a problem over the past two days, with minor roads blocked by fallen trees. The National Trust closed its properties in Somerset at Montacute, Barrington Court, Lytes Cary and Tintinhull Manor because of the danger of falling branches on their estates.
Bill Parks, Wiltshire Council’s head of highways, said: “It was a very busy weekend, with Sunday seeing by far the biggest number of incidents. We removed fallen trees and debris as quickly as we could to keep the roads clear.”
The Environment Agency said that despite the deluge, the West was still officially in drought.
“We’ve had some high rainfall totals, particularly in West Somerset over the last 24 hours,” said John Rowlands from the agency yesterday. “We’ve over two inches of rain, or 65 mm, and southern England looks set to receive another 0.8in to 1.2in (20mm to 30mm) of rain overnight,” he added.
But a spokesman for Defra said people should still save water as the drought remained in force.
“Following two dry winters and record low levels of rainfall, water reserves are still under pressure in many parts of the UK. While we welcome the rain we have received recently, we cannot be complacent and still need everyone to save water where they can,” he added.