Brown visits flood devastation region

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The Independent Online

Prime Minister Gordon Brown arrived in Cumbria today to see flood damage and meet people affected by the record breaking rainfall in the area.

He joined Environment Hilary Benn and met members of the emergency services at Penrith police station.

Homes are still being searched today as residents braced themselves for more rain after England's wettest day on record caused chaos, flooding homes, sweeping away bridges and claiming the life of a policeman.

PC Bill Barker, 44, a father of four, died after a bridge on which he was standing was swept away by flood waters in Workington.

At a joint meeting today including representatives from the police, fire and rescue service, army, county council, and the Highways and Environment Agencies, Gordon Brown thanked them for their work during the crisis.

The Prime Minister said: "Thank you for the coordinated work you've done and the superb response you've given.

"The way the emergency services have come together has given the whole country pride in what you do.

"I'm sorry about the loss of Pc Bill Barker, and I know he was a very brave and heroic man.

"What you have done over the last few days is tackle one of the greatest rainfalls we've seen in our country and you've done it will such superb organisation that I wanted to tell you on behalf of the whole country how proud we are of you."

The Chief Constable of Cumbria Police, Craig Mackey, told Sky News the investigation into the death of Pc Barker was still at a "very early stage".

He said: "Clearly we are looking at the incident and I wouldn't what to speculate on exactly what happened."

He described Pc Barker as "a hero officer who went to work to protect the people of Cumbria and didn't come home".

The police officer who died would have celebrated his 45th birthday today.

He was directing motorists away from Northside bridge when it collapsed and he disappeared into the swollen waters of the River Derwent at about 4.40am yesterday.

The officer, from Egremont, served with Cumbria Police for 25 years and leaves a wife, Hazel, and four children.

Members of a Facebook page set up in the wake of the floods have called for the replacement for Northside bridge to be named after the officer.

The chief constable said he was confident emergency services could cope with the situation despite forecasts of more rain in the coming days.

But he said: "This is going to be a long term recovery operation in Cumbria. We've seen major damage to the county's infrastructure, road bridges, roads, major routes still impassable now."

He warned people to stay away from bridges, where structural engineers and the military were still assessing safety issues.

A total of 11 bridges remain closed across the county.

The chief constable said now was not the time for "sightseeing" and urged anyone thinking of coming to Cumbria to stay away.

Asked about whether enough had been done in the way of flood defences, Shadow Environment Secretary Nick Herbert told Sky News now was not the time for recrimination.

Speaking in Cockermouth, he said the Environment Agency described the event as "unprecedented", adding: "They are saying that it would be questionable whether they could produce flood defences that would deal with the river levels as they were.

"Clearly this is the sort of thing that has to be looked at afterwards. I can understand if people have been flooded twice within a few years, they ask the question 'couldn't the flood defences be better?'

"Of course we've got to look at that sort of thing sensibly but I don't think this is the moment for recrimination.

"We've got all the emergency services working flat out. For the moment let's just give support to the people that are doing their best."