150 rescued from west Wales floods


A large-scale rescue operation was launched today to get around 150 holidaymakers and residents to safety after a raging torrent of floodwater engulfed communities in west Wales.

Senior politicians, including Pime Minister David Cameron, tonight paid tribute to Royal Air Force helicopter crews, fire service teams, coastguard and RNLI lifeboat crews and the emergency services who ensured there were no serious casualties.

They rescued and evacuated people from homes and caravans as caravan parks and villages near Aberystwyth became submerged in several feet of water after twice as much rain fell in 24 hours than normally falls in the area in the whole of June.

A Downing Street spokesman said: "The Prime Minister has spoken with Wales First Minister Carwyn Jones and Secretary of State for Wales, Cheryl Gillan, to be fully briefed on the flooding in the west of the country.

"Mr Cameron offered his full support to all those affected by the extreme weather and passed on his thanks to the dedication of the RAF, lifeboat crews, emergency and other local services who have worked tirelessly to make people safe and keep disruption to a minimum."

An inshore lifeboat team taking part in relief efforts had to be airlifted when they got into difficulties after helping to pluck a disabled man from a flooded caravan because a Royal Air Force (RAF) helicopter was 20 minutes' flying time away.

Four holiday camps along the River Lery were completely evacuated when the swollen waters breached its banks, and 150 people were sheltering in rest centres having been rescued, police said.

The Secretary of State for Wales said: "This has been a very impressive operation in horrific weather conditions and with unprecedented flood levels.

"Those involved in the rescue mission at the caravan parks in Llandre have acted quickly and with courage.

"Wales Office are in contact with the teams involved and I would like to offer them my support and thanks for the way in which they have come to the aid of all the residents and holidaymakers affected and kept disruption to a minimum."

Mr Jones was "very concerned" about the flooding.

A Welsh Government spokeswoman said: "He has been receiving updates throughout the day on the situation.

"The First Minister's thanks go to all those involved in the rescue operation."

Dozens of people took refuge in a community centre in Talybont when flood water surged through the village and three people were winched away from the Riverside Caravan Park in Llandre by RAF Sea King helicopters.

Dyfed-Powys Police said three people needed treatment for minor injuries.

The alarm was raised in the early hours after more than five inches of rain fell in 24 hours.

Residents described scenes of devastation and carnage, but the community pulled together to provide food and shelter, and help the more vulnerable.

Resident Sam Ebenezer, in Talybont, told the BBC: "The amount of water is just amazing, it's flowing from higher ground, incredible scenes, it's devastating seeing close friends' housing being soaked all the way through."

A Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service spokesman said emergency services were called at around 3am and there was "a large amount of water and a heavy current" running through Riverside Caravan Park.

Other rescues took place throughout the day at Aberystwyth Holiday Village in Penparcau, Sea Rivers Caravan Park in Ynyslas, Borth and Mill House Caravan Park in Dol-y-Bont, Borth.

A volunteer RNLI crew, who had launched on to the River Lery after a request from the coastguard, encountered difficulties.

A spokesman said: "The force of the river current, with the amount of debris in the water, made returning to their original launch site too dangerous and once everyone had been evacuated, the crew decided to secure the lifeboat and were airlifted to safety by helicopter.

"Those rescued were taken to Borth lifeboat station where they were given blankets and tea and assessed by paramedics."

Scores of volunteers from the RNLI - who formed part of the Wales flood rescue team - had come from all over the country.

Environment Agency Wales has five Flood Warnings in place for the Teifi at Lampeter and Llanybydder, the Dyfi Valley and Machynlleth, the Ystwyth at Rhydyfelin and Llanfarian, the Rheidol at Aberystwyth and the River Clarach at Llangorwen.

An agency spokesman said most rivers have now peaked but there remained concern about parts of the Rheidol which is still rising, and the river Fathew in Bryncrug.

Paul Mott, senior forecaster with MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said that 81mm (more than three inches) of rain fell in the 24 hours to 7am today at Trawscoed, Ceredigion, while some areas in that region would have had 150mm (more than six inches) over the same period.

The average amount of rain for the whole month of June in that area is nearer 70mm (just under three inches).

"That's what's caused the problem, all the rainwater has funnelled into the rivers, causing flooding in river valleys," he said.

"We've seen the worst of the rainfall in the flood-hit area, with maybe just some showers in the next few days," he said.

"River levels are still pretty high, so there could still be some problems with flooding from the remainder of the rain that has fallen over the last 36 hours, but the lack of significant further rainfall should alleviate the situation."

Police said later that a bridge in Talybont and another in the village of Goginan had sustained some damage in the floods.

They would need to be inspected and assessed, but were not thought to be in imminent danger of collapse, a spokeswoman said.