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Flood victims return home as more rain is forecast

Clean-up operation begins as homeowners face up to flood devastation in Cumbria

Residents of flood-ravaged Cumbrian towns were warned yesterday to expect further heavy rainfall of up to 4ins and possible flooding as they returned to their homes for the first time since the heaviest rain Britain has ever seen engulfed the region.

The warning came from the Environment Secretary, Hilary Benn, who said that there might be further flooding across Cumbria. His forecast was confirmed by the Met Office and the Environment Agency.

In a statement to Parliament, Mr Benn said the clean-up operation in the wake of the "utterly devastating" flooding had begun but added: "I must advise the House that further heavy rain is forecast overnight and there may be some further flooding."

Last night, there were 21 flood warnings across the UK and, with more rain due today, the Environment Agency said it was "keeping a very close eye on the situation". The Met Office is warning of 70mm to 100mm (2.8in to 3.9in) of rain over high ground in Cumbria. It was expected to start at about 6am and last until midnight. A spokesman said: "It is certainly enough to exacerbate the recovery problems."

It is not the news that the 900 people who were yesterday allowed to return to the Cumbrian town for the first time since Thursday night's deluge wanted to hear.

Police allowed those affected to return to their properties in Cockermouth after their homes were checked for sewage contamination, structural stability and electrical safety. But for most it was not a happy homecoming as they were confronted by the devastation caused by the floods.

Natalia Ekarad, 28, said she was "devastated" when she returned to her home in Cockermouth to find her kitchen and lounge had been ruined. "We have been here two years and were so happy. Now everything is gone," she said. "I was dreading coming here today. I just cannot believe it. I have no idea what we will do."

Elaine Oxon, owner of fashion store Westmidges, lost her entire stock. She said: "The smell is absolutely horrendous, it might be contaminated. We may never be able to open again and I feel like giving up. Everything is ruined."

Many homes and businesses in Cumbria remained cut off by collapsed or damaged bridges last night. The floodwaters washed six bridges away and left residents facing huge detours just to travel a few miles.

Structural engineers and military experts were carrying out an urgent safety review of the county's 1,800 bridges as fears grew that Calva bridge in Workington was on the brink of being swept away, something which would isolate the town.

Tony Cunningham, Labour MP for Workington, said: "My major concern is residents who are cut off. Things are getting desperate." Canon Bryan Rowe, of St Michael's Church in Workington, added: "The whole community is hurting. We are isolated. We are a long way from a motorway now. We can't even go to the other side of the river."

Gordon Brown, said there would be emergency funding to help rebuild bridges and roads devastated by the floods. Cumbria Police Chief Constable, Craig Mackey, said: "What will distinguish this from many other floodings across the country is the length of time the recovery phase will take. We will be working with our communities for weeks, months, and in some cases years to come."

Cumbria floods: The aftermath

*Six bridges collapsed, 16 bridges and 25 roads closed, meaning detours of up to 90 miles.

*1,800 bridges being checked for structural safety.

*1,300 homes damaged by flood water.

*13 primary schools and five secondary schools closed.

*There are 20 flood warnings still in place across the UK.

n £2m allocated by the Government and £140,000 in donations raised for the clean-up operation.