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Wind and rain cause mayhem for Christmas travellers as ferries cancelled and driving weather warnings

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: December 23, 2013

By TINA ROWE

  • Mia Hiscox and Ella Bazley-Jackson, main picture, splash about in flood water on farmland in Glastonbury yesterday as the weathermen predicted a wet Christmas in the West. Inset: one of the Dean Forest Railway's Santa Specials arriving at Parkend station on Saturday, while shoppers scramble for bargains in Bristol MAIN PICTURE: SOUTH WEST NEWS

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tina.rowe@b-nm.co.uk

Torrential rain and high winds are disrupting Christmas travel plans across the West Country, with ferry sailings rescheduled, warnings issued to motorists and coastal communities being put on flood alert.

Inland, the Environment Agency's experts are warning of the risk of flooding as more rain pours down today on a region which has been drenched for days.

And as some make a last-minute dash to the shops, record weekly sales at John Lewis have raised hopes of a bumper end to the Christmas shopping period – although there are fears that the wider retail sector could be left with a profits hangover after heavy discounting.

The department store rung up £164.4 million in takings in the week ending on Saturday night, a 4.2 per cent increase on last year – including improvements in fashion and home ware – and 31.8 per cent up on two years ago. Online sales rose 31 per cent year-on-year.

Retailers have been going through a critical few days which for many represent a make-or-break chance to restore their fortunes at the end of a difficult 2013.

The Western Daily Press revealed earlier this month that in Somerset one independent bookseller will be open on Christmas Day to beat online giant Amazon at its own game. Clive Keeble will be happy to sell copies of A Christmas Carol, or any other book, from his premises in Bow Street, Langport.

Meanwhile, five millimetres of rain fell across the region on Saturday, and though yesterday some river levels were falling, there was little time for real respite before the storm's return.

At Lyme Regis, Bridport and West Bay high tides at 11am and 10.15pm today, could combine with gale force south and south westerly winds to cause floods.

Yesterday, Condor Ferries was forced to reschedule high-speed routes to the Channel Islands and St Malo and was urging travellers to check the firm's website regularly for updates.

The Somerset Levels in the area of the lower rivers Tone and Parrett are vulnerable to flooding, and the Environment Agency has also issued warnings for the Melksham and Bradford-on-Avon areas of Wiltshire and the upper Yeo in Somerset, the lower Frome in Dorset and the upper Bristol Avon.

The Highways Agency has issued an amber alert across the West, advising road users to be cautious with the wind and rain lasting well into Tuesday. The Severn Crossing is among many vulnerable areas. Gusts of up to 60mph are also likely south of the M4

John McTaggart, head of on-road services at the Highways agency, said: "We're working closely with the Met Office to monitor conditions. Road users are urged to check traffic and weather conditions before setting out on journeys and to heed any advice such as speed restrictions once they are on the strategic road network.

"In the event of persistent high winds we may need to close certain bridges to traffic for a period, so please be alert for warnings of closures."

The agency, in conjunction with the Met Office, was advising drivers of high-sided or other vehicles vulnerable to high winds, to avoid the following roads if possible during the weather alert: the M4 junction 22 to 23, Severn Crossing; M48 junction 1 to 2, Severn Crossing; the M49, known as M4 junction 22 at the Severn Crossing to M5 junction 18, Avonmouth; M5 junction 18 to 19 Avonmouth Bridge; M5 junction 20-23 Clevedon to Bridgwater.

Calum MacColl, forecaster with the Met Office, said those looking to travel ought to prepare for problems on the roads and rail.

He said last night: "There is scope for very heavy rain, potentially some localised flooding, and strong winds in some areas so there is a risk of travel disruption. We have got a depression in the Atlantic pushing towards us from tomorrow morning. The day will start quite nicely in some places, but there'll soon be heavy outbreaks of rain in the South West and south Wales. That will quickly move into the North East, and it will bring gales with it."

Mr MacColl said winds of 50-60mph were likely as a weather system sweeps across the country, with isolated gusts of up to 80mph in some places.

He said: "Once the weather sets in, it will be staying all day. The worst areas will likely be the south-west of England, particularly on higher ground. There will certainly be a legacy of rainfall from previous days, so there will be scope for localised flooding."

The worst of the weather is expected to clear by the end of Christmas Eve.

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