Gales roar in at 70mph to bring a week of rain

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The Independent Online
Torrential rain and gales reaching 70mph battered western parts of Britain yesterday, unleashing havoc on travellers and householders.

South-west England, the North and Scotland were hardest-hit by the heavy winds. Among the casualties was a 22,000-tonne tanker which was blown onto the rocks off the coast of Devon, sending trees crashing down and blacking out hundreds of homes.

Cross-Channel sailings between Newhaven and Dieppe were cancelled and there were several road accidents as motorists struggled to control their vehicles on rain-soaked roads. A mother from Cirencester, Gloucestershire, was being treated in hospital yesterday after the family's car was in collision with another vehicle during 70mph gales. Her parents and baby, who were also in the car, were killed in what police described as "a head- on collision in appalling weather".

The ferocious winds are expected to die down tomorrow, but forecasters warned that rain and showers will continue across the country into next week. The only consolation is that the torrential rain has at last eased the threat of another severe drought in the South-east this year. Some areas have had more than one and a half inches of rain in just 24 hours and reservoirs in Kent and Sussex are almost full.

At the beginning of the autumn, the Environment Agency warned that one- and-a-half times the normal amount of rainfall would be needed in Kent and East Sussex to stave off the threat of drought this year. A spokesman said yesterday: "That rainfall has now arrived. The aquifers - natural underground reservoirs - which over 70 per cent of the region relies upon for its water supplies have started at long last to recover." The agency also urged people not to dump their Christmas trees into water courses. "In the past trees thrown away in this fashion have caused blockages to grilles and other river structures which in turn has led to flooding," a spokesman said.

- Clare Garner