Damage from floods set at pounds 400m

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FLOODING AND 80mph gales over the weekend havecost Britain an estimated pounds 400m, with the worst damage concentrated in Wales and the South-west.

Weather forecasters warn of further rain tonight and tomorrow.

At least 11 lives were lost and travel by air, sea and rail was seriously affected by the weekend storms. Yesterday, as the half-term school holidays began, several roads in Wales, the Midlands and the South-west were blocked by debris. Fallen power lines were still causing black-outs in parts of southern England and Suffolk.

Insurance expert Jeffrey Salmon, of Salmon Assessors, said that, following continuing bad weather in some areas, he believed pounds 400m was now an accurate estimate of the loss sustained nationally. "We also estimate that flood- damaged property worth pounds 60m will not be able to be claimed for because it is not covered by insurance," he said.

He warned premiums might rise by up to 35 per cent for policy holders living near waterways. But this analysis of the impact of the bad weather was questioned by other insurance firms.

Nicholas Balcombe, chief executive of the Balcombe Group, part of Adjusters International Inc., said suspects commercial properties remained largely unscathed. "Of course there will be a few industrial estates that have been badly flooded, but I would guess that around 75 per cent of the claims this time around will be small-scale domestic ones," he said.

Mr Balcombe compared the storm damage with that inflicted by heavy rains in April. "I had two people working in Wales over the weekend and, while there is a lot of badly-affected farmland, we have not seen the widescale damage to businesses and to commercial property that we saw after the flooding in Oxfordshire earlier in the year."

Despite the fact that water levels fell yesterday, many low-lying areas in south-east Wales and Devon remained under threat. The Environment Agency reported that 15 red warnings were still in place on rivers in these areas.

In a stretch of the river Dart, near Ashburton on the edge of Dartmoor, the body of James Bilson, a 19-year-old member of Basingstoke canoeing club, was recovered on Saturday night. Another canoeist, a 47-year- old man, was pulled from the Barle at Dulverton, on Exmoor.

In Herefordshire, the search for farmer William Mason, 62, who disappeared after going out to move cattle away from the river Wye, was called off on Saturday night because of the weather conditions.

On the roads, four people were killed in Malvern, Worcestershire, when two cars collided on a slippery road. Three men also died on Friday night when their car crashed on the A54 at Buglawton, near Congleton, Cheshire. In Wiltshire, a motorcyclist died on Saturday when he was blown into the path of a crane on the M4 near Chippenham.

P&O cancelled Saturday's service from Newhaven to Dieppe and yesterday sailings between the ports were also called off. Services between Dover and Calais were delayed and crossings between Britain and Ireland were wiped out on Saturday.