Three dead, two missing as floods and gales strike

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The Independent Online

Three people were killed and two more were missing as flash floods and gale-force winds ravaged parts of the country at the weekend.

A 63-year-old man was killed when a barn blew down on top of his caravan in Cumbria and the bodies of two elderly women were found in flood- affected homes in Carlisle, police said. The cause of their deaths has not been established.

Two people were missing in West Yorkshire and Morayshire, Scotland, after they were swept away in swollen rivers.

The Environment minister, Elliot Morley, visited the worst hit city - Carlisle - yesterday to see flooding devastation that cost tens of millions of pounds and meet some of the several thousands of people forced to flee their homes.

Mr Morley said plans for a £20m flood scheme for Carlisle had been drawn up before Saturday's floods and were in the process of being finalised.

The minister compared events in Carlisle to the devastating floods in Cornwall last August. "The extremity of the weather has some similarities with Boscastle. There has been two months worth of rain in 24 hours and the extensive amount of rain in such a short period of time has overwhelmed everything."

People were rescued by helicopter from the rooftops of their flooded houses or picked up in boats as cars floated down streets on Saturday.

Several thousand people abandoned their homes, some without help from emergency services, police said. Fifteen families were also airlifted to safety by RAF helicopter.

John Little, 55, the Carlisle council official co-ordinating the relief effort at North Cumbria Technical College, said yesterday: "This is the worst thing which has happened in this city in my lifetime.

"We had 150 people in here on Saturday and about 60 of them stayed overnight but we have had about 100 more people who have come in today to register. Many of them were evacuated by boat and have lost everything. Some of them came in here in bare feet and we have been doing our best to give them warm food, spare clothes, and a roof over their heads."

Keith Hargreaves, 43, recalled how he and his elderly mother were rescued from their home. "It was a nightmare," he said. "It was completely pitch black. The whole place was flooding before there was any warning.

"I was most worried about my mum and making sure she was safe. It was about 3.15am when the water started gushing under the door. I did my best to try and get things upstairs but it was coming in so quickly before long we had to abandon that and go upstairs.

"That was the scariest point. Then we were stuck upstairs and could see the water getting higher and higher up the stairs, to the point where it was above the downstairs window. That's when we knew we had to get out. I could see boats going up and down the street and shouted out the window for help.

"I opened the window and threw them a key so they could open the front door. They pulled us into the boat and I thought Thank God we're safe."

A Red Cross spokesman said about 150 people had passed through the two reception centres in the city and Red Cross workers had treated 17 people for cuts and bruises.

More than 10,000 homes were plunged into darkness on Saturday after the floods caused a power cut but electricity was being restored to many properties yesterday. Food, water and medicines were also being distributed.

With more bad weather predicted, residents were told not to return to flooded homes or go out. The cost of the damage in the city could run to tens of millions of pounds.

Gale force winds and heavy rain swept across northern Europe from Ireland to Russia over the weekend, killing 13 people. Hundreds of thousands of homes lost power. Air and sea transport was suspended.

Six people died in Sweden, including two whose cars were hit by falling branches. In Denmark a motorist was killed by a falling tree and three others died after being hit by wind-blown debris.

'Things were floating all round the house'

When Alan Hargraves was woken by blue flashing lights early yesterday, a glance out confirmed his worst fears.

A torrent of water was rushing past his home in Greystone Road in Carlisle. Mr Hargraves, 45, who lives with his brother and their 70-year-old mother, described his attempts to salvage their possessions as cold, murky water flowed in.

Speaking after seeking refuge at a local college, he said: "We were woken up at about 2am by blue flashing lights outside our house. When we looked out, water was just pouring down the road and we knew something was wrong. My brother Keith and I started moving all our belongings upstairs."

While their mother was evacuated by Land Rover shortly after, the brothers opted to stay to minimise the damage.

"Water started seeping up through the carpets and coming in through the air vents," he said. "By about 11 or 12 it had got up to about 4ft high. Things were just floating all round the house. The fridge had toppled over and vegetables were floating round the kitchen.

"Outside you could just see the tops of cars glistening on the surface of the flood and rescue boats picking people up."