UK braced for more flood misery as Storm Frank wreaks havoc


Heavy rain and gales brought on by Storm Frank are battering the UK bringing fears of fresh flooding and further misery.

Thousands of homes across England, Scotland and Northern Ireland have been left without power as the third named storm in a month to hit the country caused widespread disruption.

High winds and further torrential rain are expected in the already flood-ravaged north of England today, with people in some areas urged by officials to immediately evacuate their homes.

The chairman of the Environment Agency (EA) Sir Philip Dilley is due to visit flood victims there after he returned from a Christmas holiday to Barbados amid criticism at the timing of his break during some of the worst storms in decades.

Three severe flood warnings are in place in Lancashire, while across England and Wales more than 40 flood warnings and over 90 lower level flood alerts are in force.

Western Power Distribution (WPD) said its engineers had already restored electricity to 20,000 homes in the Midlands, Wales and South West, overnight with about 3,000 customers still cut off.

Meanwhile, about 5,500 homes have been without power in Scotland, while more than 2,000 homes in Northern Ireland suffered overnight black-outs as Frank swept in from the Atlantic.

More than 60 flood warnings and 14 alerts have also been issued north of the border, while a red weather warning was issued overnight for the Isle of Man with up to 100mm (4ins) of rain expected on high ground.

Powerful winds disrupted flights in and out of Belfast International Airport where planes were held or diverted among gusts of up to 55 knots, or about 63 mph.

Across England the gales have also brought down trees and thrown up debris bringing havoc to transport and power links.

A Western Power Distribution spokesman said they had one report from Gloucestershire of power lines being cut when a trampoline was blown into the wires.

She said: "Our engineers are working to get people back on, as quickly as they can."

The M48 Severn Bridge at Aust near Bristol was reduced to a single lane in either direction due to strong winds, while flooding has also affected main roads including a stretch of the M4 near Cardiff.

Lisa Pinney, an Environment Agency spokesman, said river levels had been falling but the renewed rainfall increased the risk of renewed flooding in already saturated areas like Cumbria, Lancashire and Yorkshire.

She added that persistent rainfall in Wales meant there was also now a chance of flooding in the west and south west of England.

Ms Pinney, a flood manager, said: "Overnight we've had some rain but more wind.

"We're expecting more rain today and into the late afternoon, so we're encouraging people to be aware.

"Based on the forecast we've had, we're not expecting to see scenes like we've had over the past few days and not see flood defence over-topping, for example.

"But we're aware the ground across the north of England is absolutely saturated. We're not complacent."

Earlier, EA chairman Sir Philip, returning from his holiday, spoke briefly to reporters outside his flat in Marylebone in London saying he would be visiting Yorkshire later, and would be "very happy to speak" with people when he got there.

The timing of his Caribbean break had been criticised, although the EA pointed out he had visited flood victims in Cumbria earlier this month.

An agency spokesman said Sir Philip had been in "regular contact" with the organisation regarding its response to the current situation, and was now set to visit flooded residents later.

It followed another day of chaos caused by bad weather, particularly in Yorkshire.

On Tuesday night, soldiers evacuated homes around a storm-battered bridge after it started to collapse, prompting fears of flooding and a possible gas explosion.

A severe flood warning was issued for the bridge over the River Wharfe in Tadcaster, North Yorkshire, with the EA warning people to leave immediately because of a "significant risk to life".

The 18th-century bridge started to collapse into the swollen river at around 5pm, with a crowd gathering as masonry fell into the swirling torrent.

An EA spokesman said: "Significant flooding is expected in the Tadcaster area. Those in this area are advised to evacuate immediately.

"The situation is serious and there is a significant risk to life. Please follow the advice of the emergency services and officials in the area."

People watching ran as a wave headed towards the bank and a strong smell of gas came from pipes left visible in the gaping hole.

Emergency services arrived quickly before soldiers were deployed to evacuate people from homes and helped police set up a 200m cordon, saying it was "due to fears of a gas explosion".

Meanwhile, in York, police condemned thieves who looted homes submerged in dirty water. North Yorkshire Police's Acting Superintendent Mark Grange said: "It is impossible to comprehend why anyone would want to bring further suffering to those who are already in a very vulnerable situation."

The EA had earlier warned of the potential for further significant flooding, especially in Cumbria, while floods minister Rory Stewart said a potentially "very bad situation" lay ahead.

In many areas the ground is still saturated from previous downpours and river levels remain at record highs.

Although the floodwaters have been receding, across the North, more than 6,700 homes have flooded in the past week.

Elsewhere, Chinook helicopters are set to continue winching tonnes of ballast to fill a large hole in the flood barrier at Croston in Lancashire, after it was breached by floodwaters from the River Douglas