Gales, torrential rain and flooding sweep country

Woman killed by falling tree while hundreds of homes are damaged and more heavy rains are predicted for the beginning of this week

Large parts of the South-west were on flood alert last night after torrential rains damaged hundreds of homes while high winds were blamed for a woman's death.

With more heavy rains predicted for the start of this week some 271 flood alerts and more than 220 flood warnings remained in place across England and Wales yesterday.

Eddy Carroll, the Met Office's chief forecaster, said: "The very unsettled run of weather is set to continue with further spells of wet and windy weather expected across the country over the next few days."

The South-west was the hard- est-hit region with widespread flooding, torrential downpours and gales damaging hundreds of properties. But the damage also extended to parts of Worcestershire and Wiltshire. The Environment Agency last night confirmed that across England and Wales a total of 816 homes had been affected by flooding. In Exeter city centre on Saturday night a 21-year-old homeless woman died when a large spruce tree smashed into her tent after being blown down by gusts of more than 60mph. Two other men were seriously injured in the incident.

A 70-year-old man died after his car crashed into a swollen river near Earith, Cambridgeshire, on Saturday. But local police claimed the accident could have happened "at any time" of the year.

Hundreds of Cornish residents were evacuated from homes as floods caused "serious threats to life" in many villages. Cornwall Council set up special rest centres in many of the worst-hit villages with around 230 staff sent into help.

Severe flood warnings were issued by the Environment Agency in Lostwithiel, Helston, Polperro and Perranporth, where rivers were threatening to burst their banks.

Travelling by road in the region was reported to be nigh on impossible with floods blocking dozens of routes, including the M5 and M50.

People were left stranded in their homes in Newlyn in Cornwall, while roads in Bovey Tracey in Devon were turned into rivers as water poured down them.

Prime Minister David Cameron pledged that the Government would assist flood victims. "Shocking scenes of flooding in Cornwall and around the country," he tweeted.

Richard Benyon, the floods minister, said more than 500 properties had been flooded but claimed 24,000 homes in the South-west had been protected by new flood defences.

However, at Kempsey in Worces-tershire, new £1m water pumps, designed to protect the village against flooding of the river Severn, failed at around 5am yesterday.

The river Avon flooded the historic town of Malmesbury, Wiltshire, forcing residents from their homes.