Prescott praises flood village rescuers

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The Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott praised the emergency services as "absolutely superb" today as a massive rescue operation continued in the flood-ravaged Cornish coastal village of Boscastle.

The Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott praised the emergency services as "absolutely superb" today as a massive rescue operation continued in the flood-ravaged Cornish coastal village of Boscastle.

He told reporters after seeing people affected by the incident in north Cornwall: "You can only admire the sheer professionalism of our service, which is a great comfort when we are in these difficulties, whether it's a train crash or a flood like this."

Dozens of villagers had to be airlifted to safety after a wall of water tore through the picturesque tourist spot yesterday.

Mr Prescott, speaking in nearby Camelford, said he had been "amazed" by the scale of the flash floods, when one month's rain fell in less than two hours.

"You saw those cars being pushed by the force of the water down the street, that was quite unbelievable," he added.

Asked what help the Government could offer, he said: "Let's deal with the emergency part of it at the moment, that's what's happening, it's not completely over.

"We will do whatever we can to help. There are procedures that governments can give assistance in these matters - we will be talking that over at a later stage."

People affected were from all over the UK, he went on.

"I was a bit surprised, thinking it might be the residents of the area, but no, it's people from all around the United Kingdom.

"They've lost their car or their caravan, they want to know if their car is still there, in some other part."

Before arriving in Boscastle, Mr Prescott visited scores of people who spent the night at a centre in Camelford.

"I have been talking to the people who have immediately been hit," he said. "They have got some immediate problems. I am going to see how we can help them."

Mr Prescott added the Government would see what they could do to assist those affected.

He went on: "Everyone is praising the emergency services for their tremendous job. It is admirable to see such professionalism."

He said the Government could bring assistance and help, but he added he would be talking with the emergency services to see they were getting all they needed.

"They certainly deserve it," he said.

The emergency began after two inches of rain fell in the north Cornwall area yesterday afternoon. An estimated 3ft of water poured through the streets of Boscastle, which lies in a valley leading to the sea.

At least 50 vehicles were swept away and a number of buildings demolished.

Three people were reported missing as families became separated in the chaos, but they were later accounted for.

Dozens of people stranded on rooftops and in cars were airlifted to safety.

About 100 people were evacuated from the village.

Some were airlifted to the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro to be treated for minor injuries and shock.

Among them were two adults and a baby rescued from a car, while a kidney dialysis patient needed lifting out of his house to get medical treatment.

Six military helicopters and one Coastguard helicopter were sent to help residents and holidaymakers stranded by the rising waters.

Lifeboats from Port Isaac and Bude were also sent to help. Coastguard teams evacuated people into the village hall.

Mr Prescott later drove to the worst affected area of Boscastle where the emergency services have started systematic searches.

He saw how the force of the water had piled trees and branches high against buildings and how shop fronts had been ripped out and buildings partially demolished.

He was shown a row of cottages where two or three cars had been left on their roofs on top of a heap of rubble, and further downstream he witnessed more severe damage to buildings which were piled high with rubble and debris.

Surveying the scene in brilliant sunshine today, Mr Prescott saw that the river which yesterday was a raging torrent was now quiet.

But the river valley upstream was littered with debris, boulders and damaged cars.

A fleet of rescue helicopters was on standby today to assist in the huge search and rescue operation in Boscastle.

Yesterday six military helicopters from the Royal Naval Air Station at Culdrose, west Cornwall, and RAF Chivenor, north Devon, and a maritime and coastguard agency helicopter were in the air for around 11 hours evacuating flooded residents and holidaymakers.

Colonel Christopher Price, joint regional liaison officer for the South West, said that yesterday's helicopter support operation was "huge".

The search and rescue operation, co-ordinated by the aeronautical centre in Kinloss, Scotland, involved the helicopters flying missions from about 3pm to 2am.

The aircraft picked up 120 people and flew them to safety.

Col Price said they were on standby today, but their services were not yet needed.

He said a military construction engineer was expected to arrive this afternoon to work with local authority construction experts to assess the state of buildings.