Homes flooded and man swept away as 128mph winds strike

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The Independent Online

Some of the worst storms for 20 years swept one man to almost certain death and left the city of Carlisle cut off by floods and fallen trees. Thousands were forced to abandon their homes, many of them in boats, and more than a dozen families were rescued by helicopter. Further rain and high winds are forecast for today.

Some of the worst storms for 20 years swept one man to almost certain death and left the city of Carlisle cut off by floods and fallen trees. Thousands were forced to abandon their homes, many of them in boats, and more than a dozen families were rescued by helicopter. Further rain and high winds are forecast for today.

Across northern Britain, gale-force winds of up to 128mph and heavy rains closed motorways, uprooted trees and flooded homes. Similar scenes were seen in Ireland and much of Scandinavia, which also suffered fierce storms.

A police helicopter joined the search for the missing man after the River Aire carried him away at Apperley Bridge, near Bradford. The search will resume tomorrow.

In south-west Scotland, a P&O ferry carrying 100 passengers ran aground, with passengers and crew due to spend last night trapped on board. In Morayshire a man was feared swept away by the River Findhorn and an RAF search was mounted, although no one has been reported missing.

Motorway links with the north were badly disrupted. Stretches of the M6 and M1 were shut and the A1(M) motorway was closed after 25 trucks were blown over in high winds near Darlington.

Cumbria was among the worst-hit areas, with police telling people to stay indoors and declaring parts of the county "disaster zones".

Royal Navy and RAF rescue helicopters airlifted stranded residents off the roofs of their homes as Carlisle struggled against the worst weather conditions it has seen since 1968 and flood water reached the height of kitchen tables. Red Cross volunteers were drafted to help at makeshift reception centres.

Residents, who had earlier watched cars float past them in the street, were forced to spend the night without electricity. The fire brigade patrolled the streets in boats.

Earlier rescue attempts were hampered by the flooding of the city's police station. The amount of water was so huge that fire crews found they had nowhere to pump it.

Staff at a Tesco store on the city's Warwick Road were trapped inside the building by rising waters and were forced to sit out the afternoon behind sandbags. Southern Electric said that 20,000 homes across Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Hampshire, Wiltshire and the Isle of Wight had been cut off.

Elsewhere in Cumbria, the Highways Agency closed parts of Whitehaven because of the risk of debris from buildings being blown down, and in Broughton, near Cockermouth, people were unable to get into or out of the village because a tree had blocked the road. Villagers also reported narrow misses with pieces of buildings being blown around. A police spokeswoman said that Workington was "like a disaster area".

In Scotland, the P&O ferry European Highlander ran aground at Cairnryan, on Loch Ryan early on Saturday morning after being hit by hurricane-force winds. The vessel was left stranded on shingle beach overnight, as adverse conditions restricted rescue attempts.

A lorry driver, Philip Wilson, who was a passenger on the stranded ferry, said everyone was calm on board. "They've fed and watered us for free so that's not been too bad. But they have kept it quiet that we might be here all night."

There were also evacuations in Peebles, in the Borders, Haydon Bridge, Northumberland, and in West Yorkshire where the River Wharfe threatened Otley and Ilkley.

The Met Office said that some parts of north-east England had received the entire average rainfall for January within a single 24-hour period.

Across the North Sea, countries in Scandinavia experienced hurricane-strength winds of more than 75mph, killing one man in central Denmark. High winds and flying debris also left 50,000 homes across Ireland without power as darkness fell last night.

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