Milder weather brings death and more floodwater

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The Independent Online

Motorists, rescue workers, hillwalkers and farmers began the new year yesterday confronted by rising floodwater, freezing temperatures and treacherous driving conditions.

Motorists, rescue workers, hillwalkers and farmers began the new year yesterday confronted by rising floodwater, freezing temperatures and treacherous driving conditions.

Although the weather became milder during the day after a week of snowstorms and gales, there were several fatal road accidents around the country, incidents involving climbers in Scotland and an air-sea rescue of 13 crew aboard a fishing boat floundering off the Isles of Scilly.

New Year's Day began with more than 40 medium-level flood warnings for rivers in south-west and southern England, central England and the North, as the expected band of rain swept across the country.

But by late yesterday the Environment Agency had reduced the number of flood warnings to 31, although one bridge in Devon was swept away by the Axe. One fireman had to be rescued after becoming stranded when he tried to save a man trapped by the floods.

Rivers such as the Stour and Frome in Dorset, and Yeo in Somerset were affected by 14 warnings for the South-west. In the Home Counties, 10 were in force on rivers including the Lavant near Chichester. In central England, seven warnings were in place, such as for the Trent at Burton and the Avon upstream of Rugby.

Cambridgeshire police also warned that some homes near Alconbury were at risk after a river burst its banks.

An agency spokeswoman said there was some risk of localised flooding from snow melt, but she played down the dangers of severe disruption. "We're just watching the situation carefully," she said.

Near Stranraer, Ayrshire, a lifeboat was used to rescue six other firefighters after their fire engine become stuck in floods on the A77 early yesterday. In east Cornwall, three people were rescued when their car became stranded. An RAF helicopter was used to snatch one driver from the roof of his car, and another rescued after he climbed a tree to escape floods near Chard, Somerset, on Sunday night.

On the M25 near Potters Bar in Hertfordshire, two men died and a third was injured when their BMW spun off the road. Police said it was not clear if the weather was to blame.

In Scotland, hillwalkers and climbers fell victim to deep snow drifts, blizzards and black ice. Treacherous conditions on Ben Nevis claimed the life of one climber who fell about 100 feet. Near Balmoral, seven hillwalkers trapped by 7ft drifts were rescued by snowploughs from Glen Muick yesterday. However, one walker feared dead after going missing near Spean Bridge, Fort William, on Sunday was found by a mountain rescue team.

Two Royal Navy helicopters were scrambled to help rescue the 13-man Spanish and African crew of the British-registered trawler, which ran into difficulties 180 miles west of the Isles of Scilly. The vessel's rudder snapped in heavy seas, and it began taking in water.

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