5 Feb 2014

UK storms: Dawlish sea wall collapses under railway line

David Cameron says an extra £100m will be made available to fund essential flood defences, after high winds and stormy seas cause the collapse of the the railway at Dawlish, Devon.

  • Severe weather is set to continue battering large parts of Britain over coming days, with the threat of further flooding and disruption from heavy rain and gales.
  • The Environment Agency (EA) had six severe flood warnings in place – meaning a danger to life – in south-west England.
  • The EA was warning there was a “high risk” of coastal flooding in Dorset, Devon and of further river flooding on the Somerset Levels and Moors.
  • David Cameron says £100m will be made available to fund essential flood defences
  • Homes evacuated in Torcross, Devon, as high tide smashes fronts of properties
  • Parts of the railway line betwen Exeter and Cornwall is demolished, after Dawlish seawall is washed away
  • Part of Brighton’s West Pier collapses
  • 9,000 homes in the south west left without power
  • Severe flood warnings remain in place in south west England
  • Met Office warns of more severe weather to come

Rail services in the south west have been cut off from the rest of the county after a section of seawall under a coastal railway line collapsed.

The seawall at Dawlish, Devon collapsed after heavy storms, demolishing part of the railway line.

The South West of England and South Wales have taken the brunt of the latest storms, which have left thousands of homes without power, and the Met Office has warned that there is more to come. Another band of heavy rain is due to sweep across southern Britain tomorrow into Friday.

Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Cameron said £75m will fund repairs, £15m will go on maintenance and £10m has been earmarked for “urgent work” in Somerset.

Cobra meeting planned

“Whatever is required, whether it is dredging work on the rivers Tone and Parrett, whether it is support for our emergency services, whether it is fresh money for flood defences, whether it is action across the board, this government will help those families and get this issue sorted,” he said.

He was speaking ahead of another meeting of the government’s emergency response committee, Cobra, as severe weather caused destruction and delays across the UK. Thursday’s meeting will not be chaired by Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, who will also not give a scheduled statement to MPs, as he will be having surgery to repair a detached retina.

Western Power Distribution, the electricity network operator for the south west, said 44,000 homes had been left without power at some point overnight . On Wednesday afternoon, 9,000 properties were still without power.

A spokesman for the network operator said power had been disrupted by “airborne debris” flying into overhead lines.

“It’s an extremely exceptional event. We have new staff being drafted in from nearby to replace our teams this morning. We have a constant approach to this because of the ongoing strong winds.”

No let up

Yet another storm has hit battered our shores, bringing severe gales, heavy rain and more disruption to many southern and western parts of the country, write Weather Presenter Liam Dutton.

Between 3pm on Tuesday and 8am on Wednesday, gusts of 92mph were recorded on the Isles of Scilly, with southern and western coasts of England and Wales having gusts of 60-70mph.

Heavy rain also fell, with North Wyke, Devon having 33.4mm in the same period of time, with 15-25mm falling elsewhere across Wales and southern England.

As I wrote in my blog a few days ago, there is no let up in sight for the stormy weather that has characterised winter this year.

Another area of low pressure will arrive later on Thursday, although it will be a rain maker, rather giving very strong winds. It looks like it'll bring another 20-40mm of rain across southern parts of England and Wales.

The next concern will be another deep area of low pressure bringing stormy weather on Saturday, leading to severe gales for southern and western coasts - along with yet more heavy rain.

In Torcross, Devon, homes on the seafront were evacuated after the high tide smashed the fronts of four proterties.

A spokesman for South Hams District Council said: “Our teams have been down there since early this morning trying to make sure people are safe as possible in the circumstances.

“The properties were evacuated because there was danger from broken glass and further damage caused by the breaking rollers.

“We also have unconfirmed reports that there may be a breach in the sea defences and that the rebuilt road in front of Slapton Ley is threatened. We are awaiting reports back from our engineer at the scene.”

Channel 4 News cameraman Stuart Webb is in Penzance, Cornwall, where “significant damage” has been done to the promenade and seawall, and huge waves continue to hit the coast.

In Brighton, part of the grade I listed West Pier collapsed into the sea overnight.

Rachel Clark, chief executive of the West Pier Trust, which owns it, said: “There have been collapses for several weeks as we’ve had the high winds, but this is more significant and obvious.

“A significant section of the pavilion island skeleton has collapsed. It’s very sad but it was always going to happen.

“It’s not being maintained and eventually the elements are going to take their toll, and they have again this time but much more significantly.”

David Cameron tweeted that he would be chairing a session of Cobra, the emergency response committee, to “ensure all that can be done is being done over the latest storms, flooding and power cuts.”

Meanwhile, the Environment Agency has several “severe” and non-severe flood warnings in place in the south west and the south east.

John Curtin, the head of incident management at the Environment Agency, said: “Following the wettest January on record in some places we are now set to experience successive bands of heavy rain heavy rain fall lasting into the weekend.

“With further river and coastal flooding expected this week we have teams working around the clock to protect homes and communities, and over 117,000 homes have been protected over the past three days.

“Strong winds and waves could be dangerous, and we would urge people to take care near coastal paths and promenades for fear of being swept away, and not to drive through flood water.

“We have particular concern for West Bay, Weymouth, Preston Beach and Chiswell in Dorset.”

First Great Western Trains have issued a severe weather notice warning customers that train services between Exeter St Davids and Penzance are suspended “due to current weather conditions in the Somerset, Devon and Cornwall area”.

In a notice on its website, the company said: “Due to deteriorating rail and road conditions across the area we are advising customers not to attempt to travel for the rest of today.”

The poor weather follows a visit by Prince Charles to the Somerset Levels to meet with people affected by flooding.

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