There will be more rain today and tomorrow as scores of households were forced out of their homes over the weekend, many with the prospect of not returning before Christmas.
As the relentless floods continued to swamp the West Country over the weekend, it is becoming difficult to find a village or town unaffected in some way by the weather. It led to tragedy in Exeter, where one woman died as fierce winds blew a tree onto to her tent.
Jamie Woods lives at the Jovial Colliers Inn in Upper Lydbrook in the Forest of Dean. He summed up the situation for many last night with a description of his weekend travails.
He said: “We went to bed and there was about a foot of water, then I came down on Sunday morning and it was around my waist.”
After two high water marks last week brought devastation to large parts of the region, heavy and prolonged rain on Saturday afternoon into Saturday night saw rivers burst their banks within hours for a third time.
Distraught householders across the South West are now facing months out of their homes – and there is even more to come, with forecasters warning of yet more heavy rain last night and today to make matters even worse.
Emergency crews have now been flat out since last Tuesday rescuing stricken motorists, pulling marooned residents from flooded homes and pumping out floodwater.
In Somerset, the heavy rain left most of the county saturated and residents and motorists found that if the rivers bursting their banks didn’t affect them, then run-off and standing water on the roads did.
At one stage, the Environment Agency were issuing flood warnings for every single river in the West – more than 150 in total – and while yesterday’s dry weather brought some respite and a lowering of the water level for a few hours, the rain arrived again.
Dozens of rescues happened overnight as drivers were caught out as waters rose. Firefighters in a country lane near Blagdon in North Somerset used a rescue boat to reach three adults and a 12-month-old baby trapped in a car in floodwater.
Avon Fire and Rescue said staff gave the occupants instructions over the phone to the terrified people, as firefighters rushed to the scene. The three adults and a baby were treated by ambulance crews after they were plucked to safety by a specialist rescue team from Bedminster in Bristol.
Right across the region, dozens of roads were blocked again, rail lines disrupted and perhaps the most ominous sign of the saturated ground came with a number of significant landslips on the Cotswold scarp north of Bristol - at Old Sodbury, where 11 homes had to be evacuated, and further along the scarp at Wotton-under-Edge.
As the West braced itself for even more flooding this week, the Government came under increasing pressure to act – both in the short term, and in the long term – to rebuild the battered West Country and to pump more money into flood defences to stop it happening again.
Environment minister Richard Benyon came to Malmesbury in North Wiltshire yesterday – one of the worst-hit places in the West – and pledged that lessons would be learned from the 2012 floods. But he claimed that the Government’s work to build flood defences had meant many more homes than the estimated 400 homes flooded across the West yesterday had been saved.
He said: “We recognise that while somewhere over 400 homes have been flooded, we have actually managed to protect over 24,000 homes by recently-constructed flood defences, and so that is the silver lining to this cloud.”
Mr Benyon encouraged people to sign up to the Environment Agency’s free flood warnings, which would give them time to react to more rain.
He praised the work of the various agencies that had dealt with the recent flooding and said localised management of flood situations by local authorities, emergency services and the Environment Agency appeared to be working.
“They will have the local resilience policies in place and my understanding is that it has worked pretty well. Thus far the system works, but we want to get people back in their homes as quickly as possible.
“This (flooding) is a big issue, and it has been a big issue for a number of years, about how quickly we can get those properties back in business and back at home if they are someone’s home,” he added. He also said he wanted to protect businesses as well as homes, highlighting the plight of farmers on the Somerset Levels whose land has been used to hold flood water.
Mr Benyon was speaking outside the home of Sam Paginton, who now faces six months out of her historic cottage at the bottom of Malmesbury High Street.
“We’ve been on alert for days and I was staying at my mum’s when I got a call at 3.30am to come back. All the neighbours and I were stood around watching and there was nothing we could do. The river was just coming across the road and into our homes in great waves but it was so quiet it was eerie,” she said.
“My next door neighbour had to be rescued from an upstairs window by the firefighters and it wasn’t until 9am that I could get anywhere near my front door, the water was so high. It was above waist height earlier, but has since dropped to thigh height. I went to the door and my fridge-freezer was floating around in the kitchen.
“It’s just devastating. They tell me it’ll take six months for the place to dry out,” she added. Sam and her neighbours live in ancient cottages by the River Avon in Malmesbury, owned and rented out by the town’s ‘Old Corporation’ of Freemen. That organisation has offered to put any stricken tenants left homeless up in a local hotel higher up the High Street. Across the road, Tom Hudson, the landlord of the Rose and Crown pub, has seen flooding here many times before. “The water is just outside the door. It’s gone down a lot but I’m trying to get hold of some sandbags because more rain is forecast for later today,” he said.
“Houses across the road have been flooded to a depth of four feet, with furniture floating around in the rooms. I’ve been here 14 years and there were floods in 2000 and again in 2007, but this is much worse than either of those,” he said.
A few miles away in Lower Seagry, near Chippenham, the constant rise and fall of the floodwater is eroding family life. Carol Watling said her son has decided to move out of the family home.
“He broke down and said ‘I think I’m going to have to leave because I can’t take any more’,” she said. “It’s actually taking my family, now it’s taking my children,” she said.
“We sleep with one eye and one ear open and it isn’t a nice feeling, living like this.”
For live updates and the latest Environment Agency flood information, see the panel below.
In Gloucestershire, there are shades of the 2007 disaster, with the county at breaking point. Forest of Dean district councillor Bruce Hogan lives in Upper Lydbrook.
He said: “The road was like a brook, it was grim. The water level just kept rising and rising by about an inch every 10 minutes. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
A high volume pump and a 2km hose was used to pump the water into the River Wye. Chief fire officer in Gloucestershire, Jon Hall, said: “The water diverted from its normal course and spilled into a half mile section of the road.
Click here for the latest Somerset weather forecast.
SOMERSET NOVEMBER FLOODS - VIDEO AND PICTURES
Sunday, November 25
Friday, November 23
Wednesday, November 21