Gales, downpours and flash floods add to misery left behind by blizzards

Southern Britain battered as foul winter fails to relent

Fire crews sprang into action across the south of Britain yesterday, rescuing people from their homes and vehicles as torrential rain, gale force winds and snow caused flash floods.

Some areas in the South-west recorded a month's-worth of rainfall in 24 hours. The rain flooded roads and disrupted the transport network.

The Environment Agency (EA) issued more than 100 flood warnings after heavy downpours overnight and, in London, the Thames Barrier was closed to protect the city from the rising tide. Craig Woolhouse, the EA's head of flood defences, said heavy rain, melting snow and a backlog of water in rivers caused by high tides was responsible.

Firefighters evacuated 12 people from their homes in Essex after fears that the buildings were in danger of collapsing, while 10 motorists in Somerset had to be rescued after their cars became stranded in rising floodwater.

Roads were closed across Wiltshire, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, and in Kent emergency services received 28 reports of fallen trees. In the Wiltshire town of Bradford-on-Avon, pressure from floodwater caused a 205-year-old wall to collapse into a residential street. A County Council spokesman said the wall had been "pushed out" by the volume of flood water trapped behind it.

In another part of the town, Sally Hanson, 48, was left marooned in her top floor after her home flooded for the second time in 2009, with only Widget, her Jack Russell, for company. Fire crews told her they could not get to the house, leaving her stranded until the water level fell of its own accord. "I'm pretty fed up," she said. "This is the second time this year, and it happened three times last year. My tables and chairs are all floating. I've been here all day. At midday it was coming up the garden... I'll just have to sit and wait."

Last week's snowfalls were forgotten by many as they battled with the rain, but blizzards brought more chaos to the Midlands and Wales. Up to 3,000 homes in Gloucestershire, Worcestershire and Herefordshire were left without electricity and 200 schools were forced to close due to the driving conditions. The South coast was battered by winds of up to 60mph, with one severe flood warning issued for the rivers Chelmer and Can, at Chelmsford, Essex.

Virgin rail services between London, Manchester and Birmingham were cancelled due to flooding on the line and, in East Sussex, the train operator Southern reported severe delays. Five flights due to leave from Luton airport were cancelled, with others delayed or rescheduled. Passengers flying from East Midlands Airport to Paris also had their trip cancelled.