School break begins with 85mm of rain in one extraordinary day

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The Independent Online

The skies over Britain turned an apocalyptic shade of black yesterday, as "rainforest" style downpours wreaked havoc across the country.

Schools were closed, homes waterlogged and roads became impassable as parts of the country received two months' rainfall in a day. The miserable weather was yet another blow in a so-far dismal summer, coinciding with the start of the school holidays. MeteoGroup said that the average rainfall yesterday alone was enough to change the July average rainfall figures for the past 30 years.

According to the meteorologists, the typical amount of rain for the month is usually about 35mm, but yesterday as much as 85mm fell in just a few hours. Eighty areas were on flood watch, with 15 flood warnings already issued by the afternoon.

The heavy rain swept northwards, with an inch of rain an hour in places. Wales, south London and Berkshire were among the worst-affected areas, with Reading and Maidenhead town centres flooding and lane closures after a landslide on the M4.

One man was killed in the Great Park at Windsor after his motorcycle collided with a caravan attached to a car on a wind-swept road close to Windsor Castle. And up to 60 people had to be airlifted to safety after a river burst its banks in Worcestershire. RAF helicopters collected stranded residents from their roofs. At least three schools in Berkshire were forced to close, with 30 homes flooded in Maidenhead.

The storms sent the country's roads into chaos at a time when many families were hoping to get away for the holidays. At lunchtime in Essex, police were called to 14 accidents within 90 minutes relating to the weather.

In Gloucester, drivers were stranded in their cars after driving into flood water, leaving fire and rescue services "extremely busy" responding to more than 50 emergency call-outs, while in West Sussex, Worthing Hospital was under 18 inches of water after its basement flooded, although patient care was unaffected. Some of Hampshire's roads were made impassable by flood water and fallen trees, and one lorry driver narrowly escaped injury after his vehicle jack-knifed in deep water in Alton. Later in the day the rain moved north, causing an old people's home near Gilling in North Yorkshire to be evacuated.

An Environment Agency spokesperson told The Independent that "everyone in the country" was potentially at risk from flooding over the next few days, and needed to be "vigilant". "It's a very unsettled picture. I wouldn't say we're out of the woods yet. We might have a couple of days of respite next week, but then the unsettled rain and weather will continue for some time."

London's heavy downpours left Tube stations, homes and roads flooded. Marc and Rachel Lewis were packing to go on holiday when water started pouring into their home in Battersea, south-west London. "Within 45 minutes the water in our sitting room was knee deep," said Mr Lewis, 34. "It came through the garden door and bubbled up through the walls. We only managed to salvage the things that were most sentimental."

The couple have been forced to cancel their holiday. "We've got to find somewhere to live now, because it isn't safe," Mr Lewis said.

Meanwhile, in Barry, south Wales, residents were trapped in their homes and sewage flowed into the street. Fire teams used a boat to rescue three people trapped in a building in knee-high water. A spokesperson for South Wales Fire Brigade said that the deluges were "very localised despite the widespread rain".

The Met Office has predicted 15 more days of unsettled weather. A spokesperson said it would remain unseasonably wet and cold "for the foreseeable future".