Storm Desmond: One dead, another missing as Army called in to help with floods


Emergency services in the north of England are becoming increasingly stretched as the Army has been drafted in to help cope with floods in the aftermath of Storm Desmond.

Fears are growing over the safety of an elderly man who police believe fell into a swollen river in Cumbria, and the weather has already claimed the life of a 90-year-old man in London.

Strong winds and heavy rain tore through Britain and a major incident was declared in Cumbria, the worst affected county.

Concerns are growing over an incident at the River Kent in Kendal as police wait for an Underwater Search Team to help them in a search for the elderly male believed to have fallen in the water. Motorists are being advised to avoid the area around Staveley Road.

Rescue and evacuation missions, which began on Saturday, continue in areas which have seen more than a month's rainfall over the last 24 hours.

A 90-year-old man lost his life after he was believed to have been blown into the side of a moving bus by a gust of wind, near Finchley Central Tube station, north London, a Scotland Yard spokesman said.

Carlisle remains one of the most severely affected areas as water levels continued to rise past the expected peak time of 9.15am on Sunday.

Soldiers have been deployed to support local emergency services by helping to move people from their homes in streets where cars have been almost entirely submerged.

West Midlands Fire Service has also sent firefighters and specialist equipment to the county and its control room staff are helping to answer the high number of calls from their Birmingham office.

Leading biscuit manufacturer, the Carlisle United Biscuits factory, is believed to be completely flooded to a depth of 5ft - on par with levels reached during major floods in 2005 - and employees are being told to stay home until further notice.

In Eamont Bridge, south of Penrith in Cumbria, 150 people were rescued by the Coastguard from a flooded static caravan park. The village of Braithwaite became completely cut off when its main bridge, the Coledale High Bridge, collapsed as the river burst its banks.

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs minister Rory Stewart, who is also the Tory MP for Penrith and the Border, said flooding in his constituency has been "the worst that anybody's experienced" and acknowledged water had "overtopped" existing flood defences.

He told BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend: "We're going to look very, very carefully at all the defences up and down Cumbria for exactly that reason. This is a very extreme and unprecedented event, early indications suggest we've passed the UK record on rainfall in Cumbria."

But he added that, in the face of record rainfall in the area prompting a "very very serious response" from the fire and rescue service, mountain rescue, the police and the army, people in the area had shown "incredible community spirit".

Elsewhere in the country, overnight flooding has caused rivers to burst their banks and even reach record high levels. The River Tyne at Bywell, Northumberland, broke its previous record of 6.33m when it reached almost seven metres in an area that can only withstand a maximum level of 4.6m.

The county measured up to 150mm of rain in some places, compared to the December average of 100mm.

Almost 60,000 people in the North have been left without power and Electricity North West confirmed that the majority face shortages for "a number of days" as it works to fix further faults caused by the flooding.

Major road closures are also still in place due to blockages and following a number of accidents involving heavy goods vehicles on Saturday.

An emergency Government Cobra meeting has been called to organise effective responses for the worst affected.

Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss said: "We know what a devastating impact flooding has on communities and our thoughts are with those affected this weekend.

"The Environment Agency, local authorities and the emergency services are already working around the clock to protect properties, help those already affected and reduce the risk to others and we are working with them to ensure they have everything they need to respond. I urge people to check the latest flood updates via the EA website and Twitter."

A number of police forces are asking local communities to help look out for each other, particularly by checking on their neighbours and elderly and vulnerable people in their area before calling for emergency service assistance if needed.

Around 350 army personnel have been made available from 2nd Battalion Duke of Lancaster's Regiment, based in Weeton Barracks near Preston, to assist with the general flooding response since the early hours.

They arrived with two vehicles to help evacuate and warn residents in Carlisle - and also sent a Chinook helicopter to move high-velocity pumping equipment needed to attend to an electricity substation.

Streets near to where the River Petteril flows into the River Eden, close to the centre of Carlisle, had flooded as the tide came in and added to already torrential rainfall.

In the early hours of the morning, the lowest lying streets closest the rivers began to flood, the water creeping as more and more homes were swamped.

In sunshine on Sunday, flooded out homeowners tramped the streets wearing wellies, carrying holdalls and shopping bags as they took their most treasured possessions to friends and relatives who had not been hit by the flood.

Fire engines, police, mountain rescue and specialist units of the emergency services ferried people on boats from their homes, as helicopters hovered above, with house and car alarms blaring out.

David Wildridge, his wife Melanie and children Maddie, 11 and Ayden, aged nine - carrying his teddy bear, had grabbed a few bags and their dog, Fletch, before being rescued by boat from their home in the centre of Carlisle.

Mr Wildridge said emergency services were worried about a crack in a join between a flood defence wall and a bridge over the River Eden close to their home.

Mr Wildridge said: "Our house is one of the last ones on the list, we've been taken away in the last half hour. We live very near to the bridge and the flood water in the house came up through the floor, about a foot of water.

"There's nothing you can do about it. We just took the advice of the rescuers and left."

Peter Brown had to leave his flooded house in the early hours of Sunday morning with his daughter, Rebecca, 15.

Mr Brown, a HGV driver, said: "We got a knock on the door at 5.45am saying we will have to evacuate the premises.

"I literally grabbed a few things, put valuables upstairs. You just watch while your house gets submerged.

"We were going to put Christmas decorations up last night but I was too tired from work.

"My living room and staircase is now under water.

"We could watch the water creeping higher up the street until it got to our house.

"I think if it wasn't for the flood defences it could have been a lot worse.

"The amount of rainfall we have had is something like two months in the space of four hours."

Robert Reid, a sergeant in a local junior Army Cadet organisation, had opened up their small hut near Warwick Road around 1am, to serve cups of tea and soup to around 25 locals who had been evacuated throughout the night.

Mr Reid said: "The chopper was up and the police sirens were blaring, they were going to houses getting people out."

He said some of the locals were tearful and youngsters "hysterical" at having to leave their homes as they were flooded.

"It's a devastating time to be flooded. It's the December 6, 19 days to Christmas and a lot of people have just lost their homes. They are devastated," he said.

"We just gave them tea and somewhere dry and warm and we were donated sandwiches by a local resident.

"It's nice to see the local community coming together, people are donating tea and coffee and cup-a-soups."