Severe weather warning as new storms sweep in

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The Independent Online

Homeowners and rescue services across England are bracing themselves for further mass evacuations and severe flooding after another bout of heavy rain and gale-force winds hit the country.

Homeowners and rescue services across England are bracing themselves for further mass evacuations and severe flooding after another bout of heavy rain and gale-force winds hit the country.

Weather forecasters and the Environment Agency warned people in western England and Yorkshire to expect further floods today and tomorrow after a large weather front unleashed more than an inch of rain yesterday afternoon.

The Met Office issued two "flash" severe weather warnings as gale-force winds gusting to 70mph lashed Wales, the south coast and the South-west. Shipping in the South West approaches, the English Channel and the North Sea was hit by winds of up to Gale Force 11.

The Environment Agency issued 21 new severe flood warnings for the river Severn, the Lower Dee in Wales and the Ouse in Yorkshire. A further 63 flood warnings also stayed in force across the country.

In York, the heavily swollen Ouse was covered by 10 separate warnings for the city last night. On Saturday, it peaked at its highest level since records began - reaching 17ft 8in above normal levels - and is again threatening to breach the city's flood defences in the next two days.

About 900 homes in the city and another 600 in Selby and the village of Barlby remain evacuated, although fears that 6,000 people would have to be evacuated in York on Friday night were not realised.

The agency fears that as the rain moves northwards, it will run off the hills and farmland and slowly accumulate in already flooded rivers by mid-week. People in high-risk areas across England and Wales were warned to build up defences ahead of more storms. The chairman of the Environment Agency, Sir John Harman, warned: "We are by no means out of the woods yet."

A spokeswoman for the agency said: "We're preparing for very heavy flooding over the next few days."

The Meteorological Office said the band of rain, which yesterday stretched from Devon and Cornwall to Belfast, the Lake District and across to Norfolk, would move northwards to settle over northern England and southern Scotland by later today. The worst hit areas could expect two inches of rain.

However, towns in Sussex and Kent, such as Chichester and parts of Brighton, face an unexpected threat from ancient springs which are reopening due to rising groundwater. At Sandhurst, near Gloucester, fire crews also checked barrels at a flooded chemical plant, hit by an explosion last week.

As torrential rain lashed the south of England last night, roads quickly turned into lakes of swirling water. Gusting winds and lashing rain caused atrocious driving conditions, and within an hour of the storm hitting the south coast the emergency services were called to numerous incidents from Sussex up to Oxfordshire.

In Midhurst, West Sussex, two people had to be rescued by firefighters after floodwater trapped them in their car. At Sunningwell in Oxfordshire, an ambulance crew and firefighters were called after a tree toppled over on to a car.

Homeowners in the most flood-prone areas were also warned that the value of their homes could fall by up to 25 per cent if the severe risk of flooding continued. Estate agents said this would inevitably make buyers more cautious.

As 900 residents in York, soldiers and rescue services built up a ring of thousands of sandbags along the river, John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister promised that a new "national recovery team" would speed up payments of compensation, rehouse evacuees and force insurance companies to push through claims. Another £51m in emergency funding had also been found for flood defences, he said during a visit to York, Selby and the area yesterday.

He said such extreme weather would become more frequent, forcing the Government to plan emergency services and prepare for disasters in "a much more robust way".

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