Householders to foot bill for worst storms in a decade

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Parts of Britain began sweeping up yesterday after some of the worst storms since the great hurricane of 1987. As the death toll rose to two, and flooding followed gales in many parts of the country, Steve Boggan found out that higher insurance premiums would provide another icy blast.

Insurance companies were bracing themselves for more than pounds 500m in claims yesterday as the severe weather took its second victim.

As winds gusting up to 115mph began blowing themselves out, only to be replaced by rain and floods, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) said householders would be asked to foot the bill through increased premiums.

The storms' second victim was named yesterday as 83-year-old Selina Andrews, of Cardiff, who lost a two-day fight for life. She had been in a critical condition since Saturday when she was struck by a large parasolswept up in the high winds in Cardiff city centre.

The weather's first victim was Archibald Howells, 67, of Kingswinford in the West Midlands. He died on Sunday night when a tree was blown on to his car at Gospel End, Wombourne, Staffordshire.

Among those injured yesterday was an unnamed woman who was described as "critical" after being struck by a falling lamp-post in Cavendish Square, central London. She was taken by air ambulance to the Royal London Hospital yesterday with severe head injuries.

Up and down the country, gales were replaced by flooding, rain and thunder as tens of thousands of homes remained without power. In the West Country, 40,000 properties were without electricity. The South Western Electricity Board said as many as 1,000 workmen were working on the faults.

South Wales was particularly hard-hit. In Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire, work began restoring power to 50,000 homes while, in Ivybridge, Devon, lightning cut off a further 6,500 customers. Hundreds of homes on the south coast were flooded. Worst hit areas were the south coast and the south-west, where seaside resorts were on red alert as waves of up to 40ft crashed through hastily prepared defences.

At Selsey, west Sussex, workmen dumped tons of shingle and sandbags on top of wrecked sea defences in a losing battle against waves which were last night threatening several homes and up to 1,500 caravans. Red coastal flood warnings remained in place in Sussex, while hundreds of rivers and streams in Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Dorset and south Wales were on the brink of bursting their banks.

The ABI said companies were already receiving thousands of calls for help, although it described the situation as "severe but not catastrophic".

"This is going to add pressure for premiums to go up during the course of this year," said ABI spokeswoman Suzanne Moore.

Thousands of motorists were left stranded yesterday as emergency breakdown telephone lines were jammed with callers. The AA and the RAC said hundreds of their extra patrol vehicles, standing by for traditional New Year car trouble, were left unused when their phone lines were inundated. BT blamed bad weather coming on the first day after the Christmas break for the "unprecedented" number of calls. The RAC advised members to contact its command centre directly on 01454 209500.

Forecasters reported that the worst of the wind was over, but rain, sleety showers and thunder storms would spread across much of southern Britain, while snow and frost would hit the Midlands, Pennines and North Wales.