Tadcaster Bridge collapse prompts soldiers to be drafted in to evacuate homes

Soldiers have been drafted in to evacuate homes around a storm-battered bridge after it started to collapse, prompting fears of flooding and a gas explosion.

A severe flood warning has been issued for the bridge over the River Wharfe in Tadcaster, North Yorkshire, with the Environment Agency warning locals to leave immediately because of  a "significant risk to life".

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

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 set up a 200m cordon, saying it was "due to fears of a gas explosion".

An Environment Agency spokesman said: "This severe flood warning has been issued due to the structural failure of Tadcaster Bridge over the River Wharfe in Tadcaster.

"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."

North Yorkshire Police said homes either side of the bridge were being evacuated, with residents being taken to a rest centre at Tadcaster grammar school.

It came as flood-ravaged areas of northern England braced themselves for further damage as Storm Frank batters the British Isles with torrential rain and gale-force winds.

Areas of Cumbria and Yorkshire which took a hammering from Storm Eve are on high alert as the latest weather front sweeps in overnight.

Tadcaster is 10 miles from York and has been affected by flooding caused by storms in recent days. The bridge had already been closed due to fears over its structural safety.

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