Army drafted in to help emergency services after Storm Desmond


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.

Strong winds and heavy rain tore through Britain, leading to the death of a man and causing Cumbria, believed to be the worst affected county, to declare a major incident.

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.

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

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

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 yesterday.

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.