Train commuters are warned not to head west of Taunton as floods continue to cause travel chaos across the UK.
The Environment Agency has four severe weather warnings in place, meaning there is a “danger to life”, in the south west of the country – with many other lesser warnings across the UK.
Commuters travelling across the country, on one of the busiest days on the UK’s transport network, were facing delays and cancellations as the flooding impacted roads and railways.
First Great Western train company advised passengers whose travel was not essential to avoid any journeys west of Taunton in Somerset because of flooding and landslips, whilst Arriva Trains Wales told passengers to avoid any rail travel in South Wales.
Both operators were using road vehicles to transport passengers, but efforts were hampered by a lack of vehicles and flooded roads. Staff shortages and signalling problems caused disruption on London Midland services. Buses replaced trains on some routes, while passengers were warned of possible cancellations at short notice.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “Exceptional weather conditions are having a serious impact on the transport network at what is already a difficult time of year.
“The Highways Agency and Network Rail have emergency staff working round the clock to keep motorways and rail tracks open where it is safe to do so while train operators are working hard to keep services running.
“We urge people travelling through the most affected areas to plan ahead and check the latest travel information. We will continue to ensure everything possible is being done to help people get to where they need to be for Christmas.”The Environment Agency has put the severe flood warnings, which mean there is a “danger to life”, in place in the south-west – which has been the worst hit by downpours over night.
The Highways Agency also added that there were incidents of floding on the UK’s motorways, but no severe disruption ahd yet been caused.
The Environment Agency said: “Communities should remain vigilant for further flooding, particularly in south west England, south Wales, Ceredigion, Gwynedd, North Yorkshire and Northamptonshire. Four severe flood warnings – meaning danger to life – are in force across Devon and Cornwall.
“Further flooding and significant travel disruption is expected across many parts of the country, particularly the south west of England. The Met Office has forecast further heavy rain today and into Sunday, with successive bands of rain expected to bring further flooding across England and Wales.”
Two of the warnings are for the north Devon town of Braunton which is “effectively cut off” after the River Caen burst its banks. Residents woke to find Caen Street and the A361, the town’s two main roads, underwater.
A spokesman for Devon and Cornwall police said: “The A361 Barnstaple to Braunton road and also the Ilfracombe to Braunton is closed to all traffic. The town is effectively cut off from both Barnstaple and Ilfracombe and numerous properties both houses and businesses are affected.
“The public are advised not to attempt to drive to the town as it is flooded. Emergency services are on the scene and taking action to protect properties.”
The Environment Agency has also put severe warnings in place for the River Fowey from Trekeivesteps to Lostwithiel, and for the River Cober at Helston. Both of the affected areas are in Cornwall. Police evacuated residents from their homes in Helston when the threat of flooding emerged.
David Owens, Cornwall Council’s duty director, said police had asked 190 people in Helston to leave their homes after the River Cober burst its banks and flooded “a small number” of properties.
“We are being cautious in asking more people than will probably be necessary, but we think it is absolutely right to take that cautious approach,” he told BBC Radio 5.
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Devon and Cornwall Police said they had a “busy” night following extensive rain across their area. “This has again been a significant and challenging event and the emergency services together with partner agencies have worked hard throughout the night and will continue to do so to respond to calls from the public,” the spokesperson said.
“In Cornwall many roads were flooded resulting in a busy night for the emergency services. In Helston the river Cober again burst its banks resulting in some properties in St John’s Road being flooded and residents evacuated and an emergency rest centre being opened at Epworth Hall in Coinagehall Street.
“In Plymouth up to a dozen roads were closed as a result of flooding but most have since re-opened. However the outbound carriageway of the A38 to Marsh Mills remains closed and lane three inbound is also closed.
“In Colebrook seven homes were evacuated and in Plympton 15 people were evacuated after the river Long Brook burst its banks but there was no damage to property.
“Also in Devon, Aveton Gifford saw some properties flooded resulting in a small number of evacuations.
“The heavy rain is now moving away from the area resulting in a short respite before more significant rainfall affects the whole area later today.”
From 5pm on Saturday heavy rain is expected to resume in the south west, with around 30mm of rainfall expected in a six-hour period.
However, the flooding is not confined to the south-west. There are 108 lesser flood warnings in place, meaning immediate action is required, with 52 in the south west, 27 in the Midlands and 10 in the north-east.
There are a further 316 flood alerts across the country, meaning flooding is possible.
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