RSPCA inspector missing as Storm Imogen batters Britain


A search is under way for an RSPCA inspector who is missing after rescuing sea birds shortly before hurricane-force winds from Storm Imogen battered Britain.

Mike Reid was called out to help save around 30 gannets that were stranded on rocks near Penzance on Sunday afternoon, but has not been seen since.

His colleagues have joined police and the Coastguard as they hunt for the missing 54-year-old during some of the most violent winds of the year.

Gales of almost 100mph have lashed the South West and much of southern England and Wales, with coastal communities bearing the brunt of the storm.

More than 15,000 homes have been left without power, with at least 5,000 more properties suffering blackouts in Ireland, while road, rail and ferry routes have been badly affected. In Wales a wind turbine caught alight in high winds.

Amid widespread winds of up to 80mph, conditions out at sea have reached "phenomenal" states, with waves topping 16m (52ft 6in). A wave of 19.1m (63ft) was recorded off the coast of St Ives, the Met Office said.

Around the country:

:: Two children aged five and seven were taken to hospital with serious leg injuries after a stone garden wall fell on them on Monday morning in the Worcestershire village of Bretforton near Evesham. Less than two weeks ago, the council had inspected the wall and confirmed there was no immediate danger to the public;

:: An elderly man suffered a broken leg and his dog was killed when a 5ft garden wall blew on to them in Bognor Regis, West Sussex. Paramedics pulled the man, who is in his 70s, from the rubble shortly before 8am, but his dog could not be saved;

:: A father and daughter near Exeter in Devon had a lucky escape when a 30m (100ft) tree was blown on to their car parked outside their house, minutes before they were about to leave to travel to school;

:: A man also had to be rescued from his car which hit a fallen tree at Lyndhurst in the New Forest, Hampshire, trapping him in the vehicle on Sunday evening;

:: Bridgend town centre was closed by police as strong winds blew tiles from roofs;

:: In Bristol, a man in his 40s was injured after trees fell on to a three-storey block of flats;

:: Fastnet lighthouse, off the south west of County Cork, recorded sustained winds of up to 121mph, while gusts of 96mph occurred at the Needles off the Isle of Wight;

:: All trains in and out of Cornwall were cancelled after a Cross Country service from Penzance to Glasgow struck a tree that fell across tracks about a mile from Bodmin Parkway at 9.30am. No one was injured and passengers were evacuated by firefighters, Network Rail said. The tree was later removed and the line running into Cornwall reopened, but services leaving the country are still suspended as the damaged train is yet to be removed;

:: A number of schools in Cornwall were closed after power cuts, while a car parked by Fistral beach in Newquay was almost submerged by windswept sand;

:: A Lloyds Bank branch in Yatton, North Somerset, had its roof blown off, Barnstaple civic centre was damaged and the refit of HMS Argyll at Devonport dockyard was suspended after a hangar door was damaged;

:: The Forestry Commission closed a number of forests due to dangers from strong winds.

Around 225 Environment Agency flood warnings are in place across the UK amid heavy downpours, with 48 warnings calling for "immediate action", particularly in the South West and Wales where parts were expected to see around 1.5ins (40mm) of rain during Monday.

Storm Imogen has also caused major travel disruption, both on the roads and the rail network.

The Severn Bridge was shut in both directions because of strong winds, while the A35 between Devon and Hampshire was closed between the A37 at Dorchester and the A3066 at Bridport due to a fallen tree.

There were major traffic jams after the A282 Dartford Crossing, east of London, was closed southbound due to strong winds, while part of the A1 in Bedfordshire was closed northbound because of an overturned lorry.

The M4 near Port Talbot was also shut after a lorry overturned in high winds, causing massive tailbacks, and Highways England issued a severe weather alert for "high-sided vehicles, caravans and motorbikes, which are advised to take extra care when travelling, due to the increased risk of vehicles being blown over".

Rail passengers travelling in southern England and Wales also faced headaches for much of the day as high winds affected services.

Arriva Trains Wales, Great Western Railway, the Gatwick Express, South West Trains, Southern and Thameslink services were all hit with delays, alterations, cancellations and speed restrictions.

Bad weather and stormy seas are also disrupting cross-channel ferry services, with the Port of Dover temporarily closed overnight on Sunday due to wind and strong sea swells.

DFDS and P&O ferries between Dover and Calais are affected, while services from Liverpool to Dublin and from Newhaven to Dieppe are cancelled.

There are major delays and cancellations on Brittany Ferries crossings between south coast ports and northern France, while journeys between the UK and Spain in the coming days are also disrupted.

Gatwick Airport also warned flights may be disrupted.

Met Office forecaster Emma Sillitoe said the winds would be some of the worst so far this winter.

She said: "We are looking to see gusts of 60-70mph quite widely, hitting the South West, Devon and Cornwall and moving across southern central parts towards London through the day. It is going to be picking up towards 70mph around lunchtime in London.

"We have seen 96mph at the Needles off the Isle of Wight and gusts of 80mph are likely, especially along northern coasts of Devon and Cornwall and along the Bristol Channel as well."

Winds are expected to gradually ease into the evening.