Floods fear as more rain forecast in 'wettest April'


Click to follow
The Independent Online

Parts of England and Wales were braced for more heavy rain and potential flooding after a weekend of storms left one person dead.

A man and a dog died when the car they were travelling in became completely submerged in "5ft of fast-flowing water" as it drove across a flooded ford in Hampshire.

And with up to 20mm to 30mm (0.8in to 1.2in) of rain forecast for southern England tonight, the Environment Agency is on "high alert" for flooding amid fears already-saturated river catchments will struggle to cope with more downpours.

This month is already the wettest April across the UK in records dating back a century to 1910, according to provisional figures from the Met Office.

The figures up to April 29 showed an average of 121.8 mm had fallen (4.8 inches) so far this month, almost double the long term average for April of 69.6mm (2.7 inches) and beating the previous record of 120.3mm (4.7 inches) set in 2000.

There are 36 flood warnings in place, including 20 in the South West and a handful each in the Midlands, North East and East Anglia. There were also more than 150 less serious flood alerts.

An Environment Agency spokeswoman said they remained on high alert for flooding into Tuesday across southern England but particularly in Somerset, Dorset and Devon.

"After a very wet weekend conditions have generally improved today, but further rain forecast for tonight means that there is still a risk of flooding across many parts of England and Wales.

"River flows are high after this weekend's rainfall and we are keeping a close watch on river levels as well as checking defences and clearing any potential blockages to reduce the risk of flooding," she said.

Over the weekend downpours and winds of up to 70mph in south-west England and Wales brought down trees, left thousands of homes without power and disrupted rail services, while low-lying fields and some roads were submerged.

The Environment Agency said only 20 properties had been flooded across the country, while thousands were protected by flood defences, including 600 homes in Taunton and 25,000 properties along the River Don through Doncaster and Bentley.

Unfinished flood defences in Upton upon Severn which were shored up over the weekend kept water out of the town and Tewkesbury suffered some localised flooding, but nothing unusual for the area.

However, the bad weather claimed its first casualty today when a man from the Middlesex area died in his car in Compton Wood, Hampshire, after the vehicle became "completely submerged".

His 54-year-old wife was able to escape from the car, but the man had to be recovered from it and was pronounced dead at the scene. The dog also died in the incident, according to fire crews who attended.

Inspector Jon Snook, from Hampshire police's roads policing unit, said: "We believe the car drove into the ford from the Hampshire side where it appears as though it was swept downstream and became submerged.

"On arrival, we co-ordinated a rescue operation with the fire service to try and free the man. Unfortunately, he was pronounced dead at the scene.

"We know that the ford was flooded and we are now conducting an investigation to establish the exact circumstances of this incident and will be preparing a file for the coroner."

Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service said it had attended seven separate incidents across Devon and Somerset in the past two days in which vehicles had become stuck in floodwater.

The fire service warned of the possibility of heavy, localised downpours as people were driving to work tomorrow morning, and urged drivers to be aware of possible flooding and not to risk their lives by driving through any flood water.

Elsewhere, Badminton horse trials were cancelled as the ground was "totally waterlogged and partially flooded" and with more rain coming, organisers said there was no chance of the course drying out before the event began on Thursday.

In Somerset, Taunton Deane Cricket Club was submerged under water, in Wiltshire fallen trees caused dozens of incidents and two roads had to be closed due to flooding, and in Devon, the Torquay-based attraction Living Coasts was closed because of the weather.

Despite the heavy rain, swathes of England are still in a state of drought, with warnings that the downpours were not enough to counteract the effects of two unusually dry winters.

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: "Following two dry winters and record low levels of rainfall, water reserves are still under pressure in many parts of the UK.

"While we welcome the rain we have received recently, we cannot be complacent and still need everyone to save water where they can."