Three die as ferocious storms lash Britain

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By Jane Hughes

By Jane Hughes

26 December 1999

TEN DOGS drowned when flood waters swept through a boarding kennel at Churchdown, near Gloucester, but rescuers managed to save another 10 as the high winds and torrential rain that hammered much of the British Isles on Christmas Eve eased yesterday.

The human death toll as a result of the fierce storms had by last night risen to three and, with more bad weather forecast, flood warnings stayed in force across much of the country.

Coastguards battled in heavy seas to rescue crewmen and passengers from stricken vessels. A five-month-old baby was among six people airlifted from a ship foundering in force 11 gales off the Northumberland coast. The master of the 2,000-ton cargo vessel sent out a mayday when the atrocious weather caused him to fear for the safety of his wife, baby and crew. The ship's Dutch owners hope to tow it by tug when conditions improve.

Meanwhile, a sailor died from his injuries after a Belgian cargo ship was hit by heavy seas eight miles south of the Isles of Scilly. Three other crew from the vessel suffered broken bones and were airlifted by an RAF rescue helicopter to hospital in Truro.

A man who was swept off a promenade into the Mersey at New Brighton died in hospital of a suspected heart attack after surviving in the freezing water for almost an hour. His companion, who was also caught in the high waves caused by 70mph winds, is being treated for hypothermia. Both men had ignored severe weather warnings from the coastguard.

Floods also claimed a victim on land. John Winchester, 85, died after being trapped in his bungalow in Galmpton, Devon, which was flooded with 7ft of water. His wife, Lilian, 82, was rescued by boat after a firefighter and a police officer swam through the floods to a bedroom window.

In Edinburgh, Philip Reid, 44, a security guard, suffered a fractured neck when he was hit by floorboards which blew off a temporary millennium stage erected for Hogmanay celebrations in Queens Park.

High tides added to the problems in coastal areas. More than 100,000 tons of shingle was removed from beaches in Kent, Sussex, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight in a single tide.

Sussex was particularly badly hit. The fear of widespread flooding led to the evacuation of more than 200 residents in Selsey and Pevensey Bay, but they were allowed back home yesterday morning after a last-minute change in the wind direction averted the worst effects. The residents were warned they may have to leave a second time if the wind changes direction again.

Hundreds of Environment Agency staff worked through Christmas Day to shore up breached sea defences along the south coast in anticipation of last night's tide.

High tides and strong winds also led to two P&O Stena Line ferries leaving the port at Dover and spending the night at a sheltered anchorage at sea to avoid being battered against the dock.

Several rivers in Kent and Sussex were on red alert and around 60 rivers across Devon and Cornwall were still on yellow alert last night, the Environment Agency said. Homes were flooded in the Cumberland Basin, in the centre of Bristol, and the River Severn burst its banks south of Gloucester.

The storms also left thousands of homes without power as cables were brought down in Devon and Cornwall, East Anglia, Wales, Scotland and the Irish Republic.

Northern Ireland and Scotland were affected by snowfalls which made conditions difficult for drivers.

It was also a bad day for bookmakers who now stand to lose hundreds of thousands of pounds after flakes of snow were spotted falling on the London Weather Centre during Christmas Day.

Bookies had been offering odds of 50-1 against a White Christmas and, although the snowflakes hardly constituted a blizzard, they were enough to meet the Met Office's official definition.

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