Clear-up begins as floods subside

THE FLOODWATERS began to subside yesterday as the storm that has raged across southern Britain this week gave way to showers and lighter winds. As the mopping up began, insurers were expecting the cost of the gales to run into millions of pounds.

The weather, which forecasters warned last night could get worse in the next few days, remained unpredictable yesterday. Passengers at Gatwick airport watched as a gust of wind lifted two empty Jumbo jets each weighing 165 tonnes six feet off the tarmac and sent them crashing into nearby cargo containers.

Maureen Darwin was among passengers preparing to board one of the aircraft. 'It was absolutely incredible. It was as if a giant unseen hand had come down from the heavens and had just lifted the plane up and across the Tarmac,' she said. Both 400-seat aircraft are owned by North West airlines. One landed on top of a container and will out of operation for several weeks.

There was widespread disruption on roads and railways in the South-west and Wales, the two areas worst affected by the rains. No train services were operating west of Swansea and British Rail abandoned its timetable on branch lines to the floodbound South Wales valleys.

Tracks between Llanelli and Llandrindod Wells in Mid Wales were also under water. The main rail link between the South-west and London Paddington was again broken when the river Exe flooded at a bridge near Exeter.

In Wales, Gwent and Carmarthen escaped large-scale flooding as newly installed flood defences held good against the rivers Towy and Usk, which rose 20 feet (6.09m) in three hours.

Insurers said they would not be able to properly assess the cost of the damage for several weeks, but some were anticipating liability of at least pounds 5m in South Wales. David Hunt, the Secretary of State for Wales, told the Commons that there would be no emergency funding to assist local authorities. Kim Howells, the Labour MP for Pontypridd, urged him to help flood victims just as the Government was prepared to help the Queen with Windsor Castle.

The Association of British Insurers warned that the worst may be yet to come: 'We are likely to be hit again in the new year, that is traditionally when it is worst.'

In spite of the rains, the Government urged consumers to continue to be sparing with water to avoid problems next summer.