Roads closed and power lines felled by storms

WEATHER forecasters were last night predicting a record low off the north-west coast of Scotland as Britain was engulfed by storm-force winds and flooding.

Scotland, which was expected to experience gusts of up to 100mph overnight and suffer continuing snowdrifts in areas such as the Grampian region, has been worst hit. Widespread flooding blocked roads in areas such as Renfrew, where the River Clyde burst its banks.

Police, coastguards and an RAF helicopter yesterday searched for a diver who went missing in Loch Long, Argyll. The body of a canoeist who went missing on Saturday was found on the shore of Loch Etive, Argyll. She was named as Karen Fretwell, 26, a civil servant from Oban.

South of the border, the search for a potholer who was washed away yesterday at the West Kingsdale Master Cave at Chapel-Le-Dale near Ingleton, North Yorshire, was expected to resume this morning.

The bad weather is being caused by a depression 350 miles off the Scottish coast which is already as deep as the record barometric low recorded by meteorologists in December 1986. The London Weather Centre yesterday forecast that it would deepen further by early today.

Exposed areas in the south, such as Dover in Kent, where gusts of 70mph were recorded, also received a battering. Cross- channel ferries were reported delayed with dozens of lorries jamming roads near south-coast ports. An 800-tonne Dutch freighter carrying coal which ran aground off Minehead seafront yesterday was later refloated and sailed to Newport for inspection.

Floods and fallen trees blocked roads across the country with the South-east, South-west and Wales badly hit. The A40 at Bryn in Gwent, the A350 in Trowbridge, Wiltshire and the A5 in Snowdonia were among the worst affected.

Landslides occured in Devon affecting the A377 and A39. About 70 council staff helped remove fallen trees from roads in the area. The seafronts at Sidmouth and Exmouth were closed as 30ft waves crashed on to promenades. Sandbags were used to bolster sea defences in many west-facing coastal areas. A spokesman for the National Rivers Authority said flooding had been averted in populated areas of Merseyside, Lancashire and Cumbria.

In Wales, following preliminary flood warnings for the Conwy, Dovey and Mawddach rivers, farmers were urged to move livestock to higher ground. Fallen power lines blacked out 3,000 homes in Wiltshire. Hundreds more in Kent and Hampshire were also without electricity.

(Photograph omitted)