Two die as gales sweep country

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The Independent Online
TWO PEOPLE died yesterday as the storms that have wreaked havoc over the holiday period continued to batter much of southern England.

A pensioner died in West Sussex when he was struck by a branch falling from a tree and another man was killed by storm debris in Somerset.

Robert Bridger, 70, died outside his home in Bolney, West Sussex, in front of his 11-year-old grandson.

A police spokesman said: "A large branch came down and struck Mr Bridger on the head. He then became trapped underneath it."

The second victim, aged 51, died when he was apparently struck by parts of a metal roof blown off a building as he walked along a canal path in Bridgwater, Somerset. Police were not naming him until his relatives had been told.

In south-west Ireland, police are to resume a search today for a German couple feared to have been blown into the sea while walking on cliffs near Cork.

A woman was flown to hospital by coastguard helicopter after being injured by a falling tree in Hampshire, while in Devon a woman escaped from her car seconds before a tree crushed it. Off Herne Bay in Kent, an inshore lifeboat capsized, throwing three crew overboard, as it went to the rescue of three small angling boats that had been reported missing.

The crew managed to struggle ashore, although two needed hospital checks after swallowing seawater.

In Pill, near Bristol, villagers found themselves under three feet of water after Environment Agency staff forgot to close the gates on a new pounds 5m flood defence system for the village, which sits on the banks of the Avon.

An Environment Agency spokeswoman said: "This was a human error and we apologise for the inconvenience it caused to people in the village." One villager, who refused to be named, said: "It is a farce. The thing cost pounds 5m and then no one shuts the gates."

Many people will return to work today after an extended Christmas break to find colleagues still absent because they have caught the flu bug that is sweeping Britain. More than 45,000 people succumbed to the virus over the holiday period, according to a national influenza monitoring unit. Hospitals, ambulance services and doctors have struggled to cope, and the numbers falling ill shows no sign of abating.

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