Driving warning for Cumbria motorists as torrential rain hits area

Police have warned motorists in Cumbria to drive "only if absolutely necessary" after torrential rain left roads flooded and hundreds of people fearing their homes may be inundated.

The towns of Egremont and Kendal, on opposite sides of the Lake District, are still on high alert as river levels rose overnight following hours of heavy downpours.

The Environment Agency issued severe flood warnings - its highest level of alert - on Saturday and emergency reception centres were set up in both Cumbrian towns.

Councils estimated up to 1,000 properties in Kendal and 600 in Egremont were under threat, with peak water levels now expected some time on Sunday morning.

Cumbria Police said a number of roads in the county have already been affected, including the A66 route, which links the M6 with communities on the west coast.

A force spokesman said: "Agencies are urging motorists to drive only if absolutely necessary following a number of the county's roads been affected by surface water following continuous rainfall.

"Severe weather is expected to continue throughout this morning and people are being advised to get to a non-flood risk area and stay inside during the worst of the weather."

Chief inspector Matt Kennerley said: "Many of the county's roads, including the A66 at Threlkeld, have minor road surface flooding.

"Our advice is to drive only if necessary today as it is expected, that with further deteriorating weather conditions, more roads will be affected with an increasing severity.

"If you must drive, please do so with extreme care. Motorists should not drive through any floodwater of which they cannot judge the depth."

Mr Kennerley also warned of significant cross-winds in the Shap area, where the M6 crosses high ground in Cumbria.

The Environment Agency issued 12 severe flood warnings for areas in and around the two Cumbrian towns on Saturday but this was later reduced to six.

This is the agency's highest level of alert and indicates a "possible danger to life".

The moves follow the Met Office's amber warning over severe weather for north-west Wales and parts of north-west England as more than a month's rain was expected to fall in these areas from Saturday evening through today.

An agency spokesman said the severe warning means residents are urged to "take immediate action and prepare for property flooding".

There are also 67 flood warnings in force across England and Wales, along with 123 flood alerts.

In Kendal, South Lakeland District Council has set up a reception centre at Kendal Town Hall for anyone who has nowhere else to go and said military personnel could be used to help with flood defence.

In Egremont, similar arrangements for evacuated residents were made at West Lakes Academy.

Forecasters have warned the storm which had moved slowly over north-west England throughout the weekend will bring an extremely high level of rain on high ground - up to 7.9in (200mm) - but flooding is likely as it follows a week of bad weather which has left ground saturated.

Cumbria was hit by severe floods in November 2009. During those incidents, Pc Bill Barker, 44, died after the bridge he was standing on collapsed in Workington, a town about 13 miles north of Egremont.