North-south divide as rain stops holiday play

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The Independent Online

Predictions of a miserable, soggy bank holiday weekend were proved correct yesterday as people across southern Britain endured another day of torrential rain and high winds.

The Meteorological Office in London issued several severe weather warnings as gales battered Wales and south-west England in the morning, with 60mph winds in exposed areas.

The heaviest downpours fell on Hampshire, Sussex and Kent. Hampshire had 60mm (2.4ins) of rain in 24 hours – three-quarters of the usual total for May. Trees were brought down and about 100 homes were left without power.

Network Rail was forced to turn off the electricity supply to Southampton Central station after rail tracks were flooded. It was out of action from 7.30am until about 4pm, when services slowly returned to normal. Replacement buses were laid on but some had to be diverted when trees fell on to roads near Brockenhurst in the New Forest. Elsewhere, delays of up to an hour were reported in the West Midlands after rail lines were blocked at Sutton Coldfield.

The torrential rain also caused panic in Kent and Sussex, where fire crews were called to a number of homes whose owners were worried about flooding. Properties in Tonbridge, Rochester and Maidstone were particularly badly hit, and matters were not helped by the strong winds, which caused tailbacks on roads blocked by fallen trees.

In Huddersfield, police were investigating whether the high winds blew down a large branch that fell on a girl of 13 at a park in the Oakes area of the town at 3pm. She was taken to hospital but died of head injuries.

In Sussex, police and fire crews dealt with 85 emergency calls yesterday. Families in low-lying coastal areas were warned by the Environment Agency to "move their treasured possessions and pets" and to prepare for the risk of flooding.

The misery in the south was not reflected in the north, which enjoyed the weekend's best weather. Temperatures on the west coast of Scotland reached a balmy 18C, while northern England also had its fair share of sunshine.

"The rain was pretty torrential in the south this morning, and it has been unseasonably windy as well," said Kevin Hogg, a Met Office forecaster. "The winds have been coming in from a south-easterly direction, so it is particularly unusual for them to be so strong. London has been especially chilly for the time of year. But there has definitely been a north-south divide in terms of the weather this weekend – it gets better the further north you go."

The roads remained largely free from congestion – probably because so many families chose to stay close to home.

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