Gales and floods hit southern England

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Gale force winds and driving rain caused havoc in the south of England yesterday, one of the windiest June days on record.

Gale force winds and driving rain caused havoc in the south of England yesterday, one of the windiest June days on record.

Part of the derelict West Pier at Brighton was swept into the sea by the storms, the hopes of tennis fans at Wimbledon were dashed, with not a ball being hit in anger all day, and early arrivals at the Glastonbury Festival were soaked.

Gusts of wind reached 50 to 60mph; the weather station at Heathrow airport recorded winds of 45mph, just below the local June record of 50mph.

"It is one of the exceptional [weather] events and it could be the windiest June day since the day before D-Day in 1944," a Meteorological Office spokesman said.

Weather warnings were in place as landslips, fallen trees and severe flooding swept the region, with the bad weather moving northwards. Heavy downpours caused trouble in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, while flooding in Dorset and Cornwall led to road closures.

People were temporarily evacuated from their homes after a landslip in Porthtowan, Cornwall, on Monday night, and cross-Channel ferry services were halted. Windy and wet conditions are expected to continue today, particularly in eastern England and Scotland, with some rough weather also expected in the South-east.

The further damage to Brighton's pier after previous collapses and fires was bad news for conservationists. Rachel Clark, of the West Pier Trust, said: "There is a really terrible storm here and the concert hall - the building closest to the shore which partially collapsed 18 months ago - has completely collapsed into the sea. It was always vulnerable but what we never expected was that we would have such a severe storm at the height of summer so we have been caught off guard."

The damage comes just months after the Heritage Lottery Fund pulled the plug on £14m in funding to help restore the 135-year-old landmark when costs escalated after two fires last year. English Heritage has set a target of September this year to have in place fresh proposals and a new funding package for the pier.

Ms Clark said: "The collapse is sad, but I don't think it will have any effect on any rescue package that English Heritage comes up with."

At Wimbledon, it was the fourth complete washout of a day in the past 10 years. Rain also badly hampered propceedings on Monday and Tuesday, with play being abandoned in the early evening. The delays have left a backlog of 109 singles matches.

At the Glastonbury Festival, which officially opens tomorrow, arrivals on the 900-acre site at Pilton, Somerset, were slower than normal when the gates opened yesterday. Although better weather is forecast for the weekend, the question is whether 112,000 festival-goers, combined with thousands more traders, security personnel and other staff, will churn up the mud before it has time to dry out. "With thousands of people going, it's going to be quite muddy," a Met Office spokesman said. "It has been wet and windy, with more rain predicted for Friday, so the ground will be wet. Saturday will probably be warmer, at 21 to 24C when the sun comes out. But on Sunday there's a chance of showers."

This year's line-up includes Oasis, Paul McCartney, James Brown and the Black Eyed Peas. Morrissey appears on Sunday, despite once vowing never to return, and English National Opera will introduce a Wagnerian element with a performance of "The Ride of the Valkyrie".

Oxfam, Greenpeace and Wateraid will again benefit from the proceeds and there is an even stronger emphasis on the environment than normal. A team of volunteers called the Glastonbury Green Police will challenge anti-social behaviour and encourage recycling.

Avon and Somerset Police are joining in by ditching many of their four-wheel drive vehicles in favour of mountain bikes to patrol the site. They will also deploy automatic number plate recognition cameras, which scan car number plates and tell police within seconds whether the owner has criminal links,part of a policing operation that has radically cut the once-common risks of being mugged or having your tent stolen.

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