Workers trapped in factory as flooding sweeps across Britain

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The Independent Online

Thunderstorms and torrential rain caused chaos across a swathe of Britain yesterday, with widespread flooding disrupting road travel and rail services.

More than 40 workers were trapped by flood waters surrounding their tool factory in Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, after a band of storms and showers crossed the region overnight and continued into the north of England.

Firefighters and police dealt with hundreds of 999 calls from stranded homeowners and drivers, rail companies cancelled services and schools were closed after the equivalent of a month's rain fell in many areas in a few hours.

A 17-year-old soldier was missing after falling into a stream swollen by the rains.

The first day of the fourth Test match between England and the West Indies also fell foul of the deluge after a downpour at Chester-le-Street, Co Durham, caused play to be abandoned.

The Environment Agency issued flood warnings last night across six counties from Suffolk to North Yorkshire. Edgbaston in the Birmingham was the wettest place in Britain with 86mm (3.4 inches) of rain in 24 hours while 71mm fell on Bingley, West Yorkshire. The monthly average for the UK in June is 66mm.

A spokesman said: "We have had very, very heavy rainfall overnight. It's not over yet and will be moving slowly northwards."

The Met Office warned that the heavy rain would persist into today before dying out on Sunday ahead of more unsettled conditions next week.

A spokesman said: "We are caught in slow-moving area of low pressure which is causing prolonged heavy rainfall across the Midlands, North Yorkshire and into the North-east.

"There is one site near York which has seen 51mm of rain in four hours. We're getting the traditional Wimbledon tennis downpours a little early."

Firefighters in South Yorkshire said they dealt with almost 200 calls between midnight and 8am yesterday, most from homeowners whose cellars had flooded. Torrential rain brought more disruption to Northern Ireland, where flooding caused £5m of damage on Tuesday.

Network Rail said services were severely disrupted across Yorkshire region and the West Midlands with lines cut between Birmingham and Newcastle and Wolverhampton and Rugby.

Some 42 staff on the night shift at the WH Smith & Sons toolmaking company in Sutton Coldfield were unable to leave the premises yesterday morning after the nearby river Tame burst its banks.

The Army is searching for a 17-year-old recruit who went missing during a "routine exercise" on Hipswell Moor, near Catterick. The soldier was one of three servicemen who fell into a stream. Two were rescued.

A 57-year-old man suffered serious injuries when his car overturned after hitting surface water on the M42 in Warwickshire.

The Met Office said heavy showers were also expected in Wales and the West Country. The rain is expected to return to much of the country on Monday.