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History > 2009 > UK > Nature (I)




Flood-hit Cumbria

braces for more rain

Met Office predicting up to 50mm
and warns of waters rising again as county reels
from evacuations and policeman's death


Saturday 21 November 2009
15.36 GMT
David Batty and agencies


Flood-damaged parts of the UK are bracing themselves for more heavy rain today after two days of downpours that inundated homes, swept away bridges, sparked evacuations and claimed the life of a policeman.

PC Bill Barker. Photograph: Cumbria constabulary/PA
Gordon Brown has pledged an extra £1m to help flood-hit communities in Cumbria, which yesterday suffered the worst downpour in British history, with 314mm – more than a foot of rain – falling in 24 hours.

Brown announced the funding on a visit to the flood-stricken county where PC Bill Barker died after a bridge collapsed.

More than 1,300 households across Cumbria have been affected, with hundreds of people displaced and more than 1,000 homes left without power. About 100 people remain in emergency shelters.

A thorough search of houses affected by the flooding began this morning, as the emergency services advised people not to return to their homes yet and forecasters predicted fresh downpours.

The Met Office has predicted another 15mm (0.5in) to 40mm (1.6in) of rain in Cumbria today. Four bridges collapsed in the county and 11 remain closed due to fast-flowing floodwaters.

There are four severe flood warnings in force in Cumbria and 19 flood warnings across Scotland, northern England, the Midlands and Wales. There are flood watches in another 50 areas.

Both rivers that run through Cockermouth – the town worst affected by the flooding – burst their banks, blocking roads and forcing more than 200 people from their homes.

A police spokesman said: "Nobody has been reported missing in the area at this time and the rescue effort is being scaled down.

"Fewer than 100 people remain in reception centres, with the rest having made alternative arrangements to stay with family and friends."

Ian Rideout, a Red Cross worker, said many of those rescued were suffering from shock. "The centre of Cockermouth looks like it has been completely destroyed. I've never seen anything like it. The water has caused so much damage that many of the homes here are completely ruined.

"We've been working non-stop and between the Red Cross and RNLI we've rescued around 200 people from their homes.

"Last night I went up in one of the helicopters to get an idea of the full scale of the disaster and where we should focus rescue efforts. Almost straight away we found four people on the roof of their home who needed to be winched to safety.

"Most of the people we've rescued have been in shock. One minute it's raining heavily, then the next their home is filling with water and they're being evacuated by the Red Cross."

People in the town said they were worried that rain forecast for the weekend would bring more problems. Alan Smith said: "The thing with the river Cocker is it can fall as quickly as it can rise.

"It's come down four foot from last night but the fells are sodden and if we get any more rain it will just come straight off and into the river and the level will rise again.

"If we have persistent rain like last night and the day before, we will be back to square one."

Julian Mayes, a forecaster with MeteoGroup UK, said: "What happened was at least a one in 500 years event. It was a historic day which broke all records."

Further showers were likely to give river levels a "temporary upward blip" and flood plain areas would remain flooded, he said.

The Workington MP, Tony Cunningham, said the flood was "of biblical proportions" and he was astonished by the destruction of the Northside bridge, which led to PC Barker's death.

Cunningham, whose constituency covers Cockermouth, said: "If the floods in Carlisle are anything to go by then people were out of their homes for 10, 11, even 12 months.

"There are many broken buildings in Cockermouth but the people are not broken."

At a meeting at Penrith police station in Cumbria, Brown said the government would match the £1m in aid already given by the North West Development Agency.

"We will do everything we can to support the local community in its hour of need."

Brown has paid tribute to Barker, calling the policeman "a very brave and heroic man".

Barker, who would have been celebrating his 45th birthday today, was killed as he directed motorists away from the bridge. It collapsed and he was swept away. His body was found on a beach in nearby Allonby.

The officer, from Egremont, served with Cumbria police for 25 years and leaves a wife, Hazel, and four children.

His wife said her husband was her "forever friend" and "an amazing dad", adding: "I have the comfort of knowing that Bill died doing the job he loved, and the fact that he was helping others is just typical Bill."

Cumbria police Chief Constable Craig Mackey said Barker was "a wonderful police officer and a real family man".

"Bill is a hero who died saving the lives of others and our thoughts are with his family at this devastating time. He was a much loved friend, colleague and an inspiration to everyone he knew – he will be sadly missed."

Flood-hit Cumbria braces for more rain,






Torrential rains and flooding rivers

turn Cockermouth into an island


Friday 20 November 2009
19.35 GMT
Martin Wainwright
This article was published on guardian.co.uk at 19.35 GMT on Friday 20 November 2009.
A version appeared on p2 of the Top stories section of the Guardian on Saturday 21 November 2009.
It was last modified at 19.37 GMT on Friday 20 November 2009.


The twin rivers that bring thousands of tourists to Cockermouth turned on the town after the heaviest rainfall ever recorded in Britain, driving 250 people out of their homes.

Torrents flung cars across the picturesque centre, sweeping through Wordsworth's birthplace and ransacking one of the largest concentrations of small, independent shops in the north.

"See that oven," said Keith Fair, who opened an upmarket kitchen shop in Market Square two years ago. "That was in the window last night. Now it's on its side, halfway out of the back door."

"We were lucky – sort of," says his fitter Jim Woodford, a burly six-footer who had to cling to railings before flinging himself on the rescue boat. He points at the broken roof of a four-storey Georgian building. "The RAF's Sea King was up there this morning, winching out a group of people in their 70s and 80s."

Like many in Cockermouth, the pensioners had refused to believe that their cosy homes, painted in seaside pastel and newly strung with Christmas lights, might be death traps if water inundated the ground floors. The town has had three floods in the last 10 years and hosted an Environment Agency forum on six defence options only last month.

"But there's been nothing remotely like this," said Jeremy Petman, head brewer at Jennings, whose riverside malt store was awash with two waterlogged skips of spent hops. "This was a different scale. There'll be no brewing now for a long time."

Evacuee Lilian Lister agreed, adding in her wartime experiences in Cumbria's blitz for good measure. Now 91, she said that residents in her sheltered housing gradually realised that dry floors upstairs weren't enough. "We'd no power, no heat and no way of getting out for food," she said.

Like the rooftop group in Market Square, she and her neighbours were evacuated as Land Rovers from 42nd Brigade drove into the town to help four inshore lifeboats and a civilian army of volunteers. The jeeps added to the clatter of the Sea King and chainsaws deployed to deal with a small forest of uprooted trees; the most spectacular being stuck like a spear through the iron railings of Main Street bridge, rearing up almost vertically with its roots in the water and the trunk jammed against the 19th-century stone. Another was impaled in a circle of seats in Market Place and the town's Christmas tree, put up only last week, leaned against the statue of Richard, sixth Earl of Mayo.

"If the statue had gone, we'd really have felt that was it for Cockermouth," said June Priestley, drying out in the Bitter End, Cockermouth's other brewery, a micro attached to a pub on high ground. The landlady, Susan Askey, said: "We're safe here but that doesn't spare us from what's happened. I've spent the morning trying to track down what's happened to an elderly relative. Thank goodness I've just discovered where they've taken him, and he's safe."

Other families took hundreds of phone calls from anxious friends and family further away, with all roads cut at one stage except the narrow Whinlatter Pass from Keswick. The main A66 route was blocked by a new, third lake between Derwentwater and Bassenthwaite, whose temporary shores were lined with abandoned cars.

At the high school, on Cockermouth's highest ground, nurse Gill Aitchison was among scores of volunteers looking after other elderly victims, some of them groggy after a night on mattresses in the commandeered hall. A man sat in tears after returning briefly to collect clothes from his mud-plastered flat.

As the rivers slowly withdrew to their debris-littered courses, other volunteers started a huge clean-up with everything from mops to a farm slurry spreader. Hauled in by a tractor, the machine's heavy-duty pump sucked a swimming pool's worth of water from the cellars of Jan Mansergh's lingerie shop.

"My family are farmers," she said, "and as soon as they saw what was happening, they were on the phone offering help." The alley off Main Street filled with the stink of sewage.

"That's the river water," Mansergh said. "Don't ask what's in it, but everything in Cockermouth is going to need cleaning again and again."

    Torrential rains and flooding rivers turn Cockermouth into an island, NYT, 20.11.2009, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/nov/20/torrential-rain-river-floods-cockermouth






Month’s rainfall in one day

brings heavy flooding


February 11, 2009
The Times
Chris Smyth


Floods surged across parts of southern England yesterday after a night of driving rain. Homes were evacuated, schools were closed and travel disrupted as the downpour brought a month’s rain in a day to some areas.

A week after parts of the country were paralysed by snow, coastal areas were battered by winds gusting up to 67mph and heavy rain brought severe flooding from Essex to the South West.

Emergency services were deluged with hundreds of calls from people trapped by rising water. Dozens of motorists had to be rescued from their cars on flooded roads across the southern counties.

The West Country experienced the worst of the rain, with almost 6cm falling in the Isles of Scilly in 24 hours. Shoreham, West Sussex, had 4.2cm in the same period, more than 80 per cent of its average February rainfall, while Northolt, on the fringes of West London, received its full monthly average of 3.8cm.

Winds reached 50mph across much of the South Coast in the early hours of yesterday, peaking at 67mph at the Needles, off the Isle of Wight. There were snow flurries from the Cotswolds to South Wales.

More than a hundred flood warnings were in force yesterday morning, and the Thames Barrier was raised, for the first time in a year, to protect the capital from flooding.

An 81-year-old man was in a critical condition in hospital after apparently falling into a river during heavy storms near Torpoint, Cornwall. He was found washed up on a ferry slipway.

While the worst of the rain had cleared by yesterday lunchtime, rivers remained high and dozens of Environment Agency flood warnings were still in force last night.

Essex remained on alert for “extreme danger to life and property” with the rivers Chelmer and Can swollen. In Clacton, 30 people were forced to leave their homes in one road alone, and from Somerset to Hertfordshire there were more reports of people being forced to seek refuge from the rising waters.

About 200 roads were flooded in Essex, and the waters forced road closures in Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Devon, Cornwall, Wiltshire, Berkshire, Hampshire and Sussex.

Both Severn bridges were closed for a time because of falling ice — and a convoy of tanks was sent across to try to shake off the worst.

Motorists were told not to drive across fords and were warned that overnight frost could turn floodwaters to ice. Some flights were cancelled at Luton, Bristol and East Midlands airports and trains were disrupted between London and Birmingham.

Up to 3,000 homes in Gloucestershire, Worcestershire and Herefordshire were left without electricity for much of the day after snow and ice brought down power lines. Scores of schools were closed in Northamptonshire, Gloucesterhire and South Wales.

The Environment Agency said that spring tides had worsened the flooding, as many rivers became “tide-locked” — unable to carry away as much water as usual because of higher sea levels. Melting snow added to the surface flooding in some areas and could cause further floods as it continues to thaw.

However, the authorities are hoping that the worst is now over, as river levels start to drop across the country. Showers along the eastern side of England are expected to disperse today, with a sunny outlook for the rest of the week.

“The wintry showers are beginning to die out, said Barry Gromett, a Met Office forecaster. “With high pressure building up over the next few days it will become much quieter.”

The cold spell is forecast to continue though, with temperatures falling to minus 2C or minus 3C overnight. This time last year temperatures reached 18C in the sunniest February on record.

    Month’s rainfall in one day brings heavy flooding, I, 11.2.2009, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/weather/article5704617.ece






Coldest night for 20 years

in parts of southern England

• Benson in Oxfordshire records lowest figure at -11.8C
• Primary school shut after thieves steal heating oil


Wednesday 7 January 2009
14.14 GMT
Steven Morris and Sam Jones
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk at 14.14 GMT on Wednesday 7 January 2009.
It was last updated at 14.16 GMT on Wednesday 7 January 2009.


The icy blast continues to grip many parts of the UK after some parts of the country shivered through their coldest night for more than 20 years. The coldest place was Benson in Oxfordshire, at -11.8C – the chilliest night there for 11 years.

But last night was even more of a shock to residents of coastal areas in the south-west who normally enjoy a relatively mild climate even at this time of year. At Culdrose, near Helston in south-west Cornwall, the temperature dropped to -7.8C. It was the second coldest night on record and the chilliest since January 1987.

Steven Morris reports from Somerset, which is enduring some of the coldest weather in the UK Link to this audio
Up the coast in Plymouth, south Devon, it reached -7C, again the coldest for 21 years. At 10am this morning it was still -3.1C in Plymouth and -2.3C in Yeovilton, Somerset. Within the M25 it was -2C at Kenley, near Croydon, at 10am.

Further north it was warming up a little as a band of cloud slowly made its way down the country. North-west Scotland was enjoying a relatively balmy 7C.

Over the next few days it is likely to stay warmer in the north but remain perishing in many parts of the south. There was a dusting of snow in many places in England today, but the Met Office does not believe there are likely to be heavy falls.

In north Wales a primary school had to stay shut after thieves stole an emergency delivery of heating oil. Tania Armstrong-Owen, headteacher of the 50-pupil Ysgol Rhewl in Ruthin, branded the thieves "callous" and said the primary school could be closed until Friday.

"I am absolutely appalled," she said. "It is a really close community and we are a small and rural school. We take it quite personally. It is devastating really. I think it is despicable to target a small primary school. They ripped off the lid of the tank and took between 800 and 900 litres. It's bitterly cold in the school and we are closed today."

Tens of thousands of motorists were left stranded yesterday, a record day for car breakdowns. The AA and RAC said the situation was the worst for five years; they dealt with an estimated 50,000 call outs over two days.

Among the victims of perilous driving conditions was a woman cyclist who was seriously injured when she was run over by a Land Rover that skidded on ice in Clevedon, Somerset. In Dorset a man escaped injury after his BMW 325 convertible spun off the road and hit a telegraph pole near Bournemouth International airport.

In Devon and Cornwall police warned drivers to delay journeys after seven crashes, including two multi-car collisions. Many breakdowns were recorded in the Bristol, Bournemouth, London and Birmingham areas.

Welsh Water apologised to customers in the Rhondda Fach area of south Wales who may experience problems with their water supply as a result of the cold snap, and pensioners have been advised to take extra precautions to make sure they keep warm.

The elderly and vulnerable are receiving a £25-a-week heating bill subsidy from the government. The payout – which is triggered when an area's average temperature falls to 0C or below for seven consecutive days – has so far cost more than £100m. The freeze sparked calls from Macmillan Cancer Support for the government to extend winter fuel payments to cancer patients.

For some people, though, the harsh weather has unusual rewards: in central London shivering tourists saw the fountains in Trafalgar Square freeze.

    Coldest night for 20 years in parts of southern England, G, 7.1.2009, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/jan/07/freezing-weather-britain