South coast battered by gales and high tides

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The Independent Online

A combination of gale-force winds and the highest tides of the year yesterday caused flooding along Cornwall's coast last night as South-west England was battered by storms.

A combination of gale-force winds and the highest tides of the year yesterday caused flooding along Cornwall's coast last night as South-west England was battered by storms.

Waves breached sea walls, hundreds of houses were flooded and gusts of up to 80mph were reported. The wintry conditions brought down trees and power cables as well as leading to the cancellation of ferry services.

In the fishing town of Looe, waves threw rocks on to the seafront. Nearly 100 homes were flooded, and 40 families were evacuated.

One cafe owner, Jake McBride, said: "We have turned off the power and the water is coming in through the back door." He added: "We are just hoping high tide will be over soon and the water levels will start to go down - until the morning high tide."

At the local lifeboat station, the waters had risen so high that the lifeboat crew could not launch their boat because it was trapped behind the doors of the flooded station.

At Lamorna Cove in Cornwall, waves tore down the seawall while, in Penzance, the seaside promenade was closed after huge waves crashed on to the sea front.

The Environment Agency issued its highest flood alert for a 150-mile stretch of coast, from Lyme Regis in Dorset to Land's End in Cornwall, as a severe weather depression and the equinox generated high tides driven by southerly winds.

A spokesman for the agency said: "There will be a number of tidal surges in the next few days and the situation is being carefully monitored.

"But people should be aware of the risks of flooding in their area and prepare accordingly."

Sandbags were being made available to homeowners and businesses in the South-west to protect properties.

Meanwhile, coastguards warned onlookers not to "play chicken" with big waves battering the coast line.

Beaches were closed because of the dangerous sea conditions, but some surfers were reported to have defied coastguards' warnings.

A spokesman for the coastguards in Falmouth said that although the surf on the north coast was low, waves on the south coast were "monstrous."

"Inexperienced surfers are dicing with death if they go out in these conditions. It may seem tempting with large waves but it is reckless in the extreme," he said.

There were reports across the region of trees, branches and cables being brought down by the wind.

The London to Penzance rail line was temporarily blocked by falling debris.

Hundreds of passengers were stranded on two Virgin trains that broke down on the coast line at Dawlish in Devon. Police said there had been no reports of injuries.

The weather, caused by deep low pressure over the Bay of Biscay, forced Brittany Ferries to cancel its afternoon sailing from Plymouth to Santander in northern Spain.

Ferry services were also cancelled to the Scilly Isles, which bore the brunt of the worst conditions.

Forecasters said the gale-force winds and heavy rain would continue into today, sweeping across the South-west. Wales and Northern Ireland were likely to experience similar conditions.

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