Floods threaten Tewkesbury again

Thirty-five warnings in place as heavy rainfall threatens more chaos
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The Independent Online

Last month was one of the wettest Novembers ever recorded in Britain, weather forecasters said yesterday, as they warned of an impending cold snap which is likely to bring snow.

Current figures show that an average of 176mm (6.9in) of rain fell across the country in the period up to November 24, making it the fifth wettest November since records began in 1914. The Met Office said that when the rainfall over the last week is taken into account, the month could prove to be the UK's third or fourth wettest on record. The November of 1951 – which saw 193mm of rainfall and severe flooding – currently holds that dubious distinction.

In Cumbria, where severe flooding led to hundreds of people being evacuated and more than 1,000 households being left without power, 316mm of rain fell during November. Eskdalemuir in Dumfries and Galloway experienced 422mm of rain, making the month its wettest since records began and beating the previous high set in February 1997 by 20mm.

The Environment Agency issued 35 flood warnings yesterday, 22 in the North East and others across Gloucestershire and Worcestershire on the River Severn, where the town of Tewkesbury – which was devastated by floods in the summer of 2007 – has again seen heavy rainfall.

The flood recovery effort in Cumbria is likely to be hampered over the next two days, when temperatures across the UK are set to fall as low as -10C (14F). Northern England and Scotland are likely to be the worst hit, with heavy snowfalls likely. Yesterday, temperatures were forecast to drop to -3C in Manchester and Birmingham and to 0C at Heathrow airport overnight.

"Tonight will be a cold night in many places – we're expecting a widespread frost across the UK. Temperatures in the Scottish Highlands could well get down to about -10C in rural areas," said Helen Chivers, a spokeswoman for the Met Office. "Much of the countryside across England and Wales will be down to -4C or -5C. Even in Plymouth, which is likely to be one of the milder areas, we could well get down to -1C."

Today is forecast to begin brightly, but rain will arrive in the west of the country by lunchtime before gradually making its way east, hitting colder air and possibly bringing snow to higher areas.

The areas around Cockermouth, where more than 304mm of rain fell in 24 hours just over a week ago, are among those that could experience up to 5cm (2in) of snow, which would delay the rebuilding of bridges. Army engineers have already started laying foundations of a footbridge to reconnect Workington, which was cut in two as the floodwaters rose. Those who live in the Northside area of the town currently have to take lengthy detours to reach its centre. The principal road bridge was swept away by the floods and killed local police officer Bill Barker in the process. The Calva Bridge has been declared unsafe for use.

However, there was better news for residents yesterday morning, when the first train departed from a hastily constructed temporary railway station. Work on the new station, which has been named Workington North, commenced just a week ago but it is now running an hourly shuttle service which connects to nearby Flimby and Maryport. The station was constructed 800m north of the existing one, and as the service is being subsidised by £216,000 of taxpayers' money, it will be free for local residents to use until the end of the year.

Transport minister Sadiq Khan said: "As I witnessed this week, the recent floods in Cumbria have dealt a devastating blow to this community. This additional funding will provide more train services and allow people to use this lifeline service for free. I hope this will make a difference and help the people of Workington."

In Cornwall yesterday, police described the death of a 57-year-old woman who fell into a swollen river as an accident. The woman fell into the river Seaton at Hessenford at about 8pm on Saturday. A search and rescue operation involving a coastguard team and a helicopter was mounted before she was discovered in the water by a police dog handler 400m downstream. She was airlifted to hospital in Plymouth but was pronounced dead on arrival.

In Cardiff, the body of a man aged between 30 and 40 was recovered from a river on Sunday afternoon.

-10C Expected temperature in rural areas over the next few days which could hamper flood recovery efforts