Villagers in Wallington in Hampshire are evacuated as heavy rain threatens to burst flood defences and cause havoc with Christmas travel.

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Fears that a flood defence might fail in the village of Wallington, Hampshire, caused the EA to call for all residents to be evacuated and issue a severe flood warning in the area.

Cracks have begun to form in the defensive wall as the river Wallington rises, and the EA has warned that if the wall fails, the village would quickly be indundated. Residents in around 25 homes were urged to take action immediately by Havant Borough Council and the emergency services. High tide is due at 4.30pm and the EA is predicting a rise in river levels again this evening.

Elsewhere, roads were blocked, businesses closed and the AA attended 224 cars that had driven through or got stuck in flood water, mainly in the south west, the home counties and in the Midlands.

Large swathes of south and south west England, south east Wales and the Midlands are potentially under threat later on Thursday and through to Friday, said the Environment Agency (EA), which has issued over 40 general flood warnings, including 22 in the south west.

It's just not worth the risk, so stay out of flood water, as it can hide all manner of hazards and you seriously risk wrecking your engine or worse. Darron Burness, the AA

Villagers in Cornwall were battling heavy rain and floods until the early hours of Thursday morning, amid concern that the river Mevagissey would burst its banks. Forecasters said the heavy rain is likely to ease off in the south west later on Thursday and that it would be dry tomorrow, but warned the weather across the whole country is likely to remain unsettled for up to seven days.

The EA also called on people in some areas to be prepared for floods and issued over 200 flood alerts across England and Wales, with the Midlands and the south east expected to bear the brunt of the heavy rain.

Travel disruption

Friday 21 December is expected to start the busiest 48-hour period of travel ahead of Christmas. But travellers are being warned to check their route before setting off, as the heavy rain threatens to play havoc with some journeys.

By early afternoon on Thursday, the AA told Channel 4 News it had attended 224 cars that had driven through or got stuck in flood water, mainly in the south west, the home counties and in the Midlands.

According to Trafficmaster, the top five busiest stretches of road over the next few days are likely to be:
- on the M25, between Junction 12 (M3) and Junction 17 (M40) both ways
- on the M6, between Junction 11A (M6 Toll) and Junction 21 (M62) both ways
- on the M1, between Junction 6A (M25) and Junction 13 (Milton Keynes)
- on the M5, between Junction 15 (M4) and Junction 18
- on the M62, between Junction 10 (M6 and Warrington) and Junction 12 (M60 at Eccles)

For the latest information on train disruptions, go to the National Rail Enquiries live updates webpage.
The Environment Agency also provides regular updates here about flooding, and expected flooding across the country.
And if you're planning a car journey, go to the AA website and use the route planner.

Around 60 per cent of AA members intend to drive over the festive period, with those in the north of Ireland most likely to take to the roads. And although few people work on Christmas Eve, the roads will still be busy with last-minute Christmas shoppers and getaway traffic, the motoring organisation added.

"The run-up to Christmas is one of the busiest times of the year for traffic so any bad weather can have a big impact on the roads," said Darron Burness, the AA's head of special operations.

"Unfortunately, following this morning, some drivers will be asking Santa for a new car after driving down flooded roads. It's just not worth the risk, so stay out of flood water, as it can hide all manner of hazards and you seriously risk wrecking your engine or worse."

Elsewhere in England, river levels on the River Cober in Helston, remain high after persistent rain, while the Dolphins River Park in Charmouth, west Dorset, is under threat from the River Char. In Weymouth, Dorset, the River Wey is rising and the Somerset Levels also face risk of flooding due to heavy rainfall of up to 20mm over last night on already saturated ground, the EA said.

"In the last 24 hours, up until 6am on Thursday, much of southern England and south Wales has had around 25mm of rain, with 40mm locally," writes Channel 4 News Weather Presenter Liam Dutton. "With this falling onto saturated ground, it is rapidly flowing into the water catchments and causing river levels to rise, as well as causing surface water flooding.

"Whilst the rain will temporarily ease during Friday, further areas of low pressure will bring more heavy rain through the weekend and into next week. As a result, the risk of flooding is going to remain through the festive period and it is worth keeping in touch with the latest weather and flood warnings – especially as everyone is preparing for the Christmas getaway."

Areas of England and Wales were last month engulfed by flood water that surged through streets and down roads, cutting off whole communities and forcing dozens to flee their homes.

Rivers burst their banks and fields were flooded as several days' rain fell in just a few hours.

Craig Woolhouse, EA flood risk manager said: "Our teams are out around the clock to minimise the risks and prepare for flooding, clearing drainage channels and ensuring that flood defences are working properly.

"We urge people to keep up to date with the weather forecast and local news overnight and remain prepared for flooding in their area by signing up to receive free flood warnings and staying away from dangerous flood water."