More flood misery for thousands of people over the festive period

Swathes of South-west cut off after worst seasonal weather in living memory

Thousands of people face a struggle getting home in time for Christmas with more heavy rain forecast to cause further flooding today, causing travel disruption across the country.

The wettest festive weather in living memory continued with renewed downfalls in the South-west last night. The rain is expected to spread over much of southern Britain raising the flood risk as it adds to already swollen watercourses and saturated ground.

The usual Christmas Eve retail boom is still expected today, with an estimated 17.2 million people – 36 per cent of the adult population – hitting the shops. They will spend at least £1.3bn between them, according to research from Sainsbury's Bank, up from an expected spend of £1bn last year.

But in many places other people will have more pressing concerns, such as keeping floodwaters out of their homes and managing to get to their Yuletide reunions with relatives in spite of severe problems on roads and rail.

Flooding has been so bad in the South West that First Great Western advised passengers not to try to travel west of Taunton unless their journeys were essential.

Symbolic of the worst of the problem has been the damming exercise on the London-to-Exeter railway line at Cowley Bridge, near Exeter in Devon. Engineers, rescue crews and Network Rail staff have struggled to prevent the line, which runs along the River Exe floodplain, being overwhelmed by the swollen river.

Plastic water-filled dams have been used for the first time in this country to prevent the line, now closed until after Christmas, from being swept away entirely. It is already thought to have suffered damage. "When the water has receded we will walk the line and see what we need to do to re-open it," said a Network Rail spokesman. "It is more than likely the water will have washed away a lot of the ballast – the crushed granite the railway line sits on."

Rivers in the South-east, Midlands and North-east will continue to rise over the next few days, with the Severn in Worcester set to peak at 5.3 metres last night, more than double its usual level. The Environment Agency has sent out over 110,000 warnings to people at risk of flooding since last Wednesday.

Latest figures show around 400 properties have flooded since then, making for the most dismal pre-Christmas period imaginable for the householders, although flood defences have protected 20,000 more properties across England and Wales, including 4,000 in Cornwall.

Dozens of communities across the country were affected by floods over the weekend, in the South-West in particular, with Lostwithiel in Cornwall and Barnstaple in North Devon among the worst hit, along with parts of south Wales.

Emergency services rescued people swept away in their cars and in Umberleigh, near Barnstaple in Devon, a woman was saved by a lifeboat after she was found clinging to a tree on the banks of the swollen River Taw.

Robin Gisby, director at Network Rail, said: "We apologise to passengers who have had their journeys disrupted at this busy time and we are doing all we can to keep things moving. However, safety is our priority."

The roads were also affected by flooding, with the eastbound A27 near Chichester and westbound slip road to Reading services on the M4 both closed.

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little