UK suffers worst storms in 20 years
11:01am Sunday 5th January 2014 in News
The UK is enduring the worst series of winter storms in more than 20 years, weather experts have said, as the country prepares for even more flooding.
The Environment Agency has issued 96 flood warnings throughout England and Wales urging people to take immediate action, while a further 244 areas are on flood alert.
Coastal areas - particularly in southern England - are most at risk as they cope with a combination of unusually high tides and another Atlantic storm today.
Forecaster Matt Dobson for MeteoGroup said the rain "simply has nowhere to go" after weeks of severe weather has saturated the ground and swelled rivers.
He added: "It's very unusual to have so many powerful storms come in one after the other in such a short space of time, we haven't seen anything like this since about 1991.
"The nasty weather of the last few days is going to continue across the UK, with the combination of high tides and a powerful storm putting coastal areas particularly at risk.
"Any rain will mean more flooding as the ground is saturated and swollen rivers are coming up against strong waves. The water simply has nowhere to go.
The Met Office has issued yellow weather warnings of ice and rain, predicting river and surface flooding as well as travel disruption mainly in south Wales and the south west and south east of England. Up to 40mm of rain could fall in higher ground.
Inland rainfall will put pressure on rivers, endangering nearby communities including those along the River Medway in Kent. the River Thames in Oxford and Osney and the River Severn Estuary in Gloucestershire.
The Thames barrier will remain closed to protect land near the river.
The strong winds, persistent rain and tidal waves are predicted to the batter the UK for at least another two days, as emergency services attempt to cope with the trail of devastation already created by the severe weather.
More than 200 homes have been flooded from Cornwall to Scotland, with miles of coastline battered and roads and fields across the country left under water.
Prime Minister David Cameron praised the "great work" of the emergency services and Environment Agency in responding to the latest floods and defended the Government's flooding policy in protecting 200,000 homes.
Meanwhile, searches resumed in south Devon for missing 18-year-old university student Harry Martin who was last seen leaving his home to take photographs of the weather - with more than 100 people volunteering to look for him.
Two people have already died in the storms. A 27-year-old man from Surrey was found on Porthleven Sands beach in Cornwall after he was swept out to sea on New Year's Eve night, and a woman died after being rescued from the sea in Croyde Bay, north Devon.
Officials around the country have pleaded with people to keep away as dozens put their life at risk by going to coastal areas to watch as the storm brought waves up to 40ft high crashing on to land.
A man and child were almost swept away by a huge wave at Mullion Cove in Cornwall as they peered over the sea wall to watch the raging sea, and elsewhere in Cornwall vehicles driving on a coastal road were swamped and almost washed away by a tidal surge.
Elsewhere in Cornwall, Sergeant Regie Butler pulled a man who had been drinking from the sea at Towan Beach, Newquay after he had ignored police warnings about the fierce storms.
In Aberystwyth, Dyfed a man was rescued by lifeboat after he defied police warnings and became trapped when photographing waves from a harbour jetty.
In the town debris was strewn across the promenade, rail lines in north Wales were left buckled by the power of the sea and a road collapsed in Amroth, Pembrokeshire.
The strong tides were said to be the worst to batter the Welsh coast in 15 years.
Aberystwyth University has deferred the start of the examination period by one week and was advising students not to travel to the coastal town until the middle of next week.
Emergency services rescued four people from a flooded farm in Llanbedr near Barmouth, north west Wales, the River Severn burst its banks in Gloucestershire for the second day running and a pregnant woman was rescued after 30 properties were flooded in Cardigan, mid-Wales. Part of the sea wall behind the Landmark Theatre in Ilfracombe collapsed because of the storms.
The coastal surge in recent days has tested over 3,000km of flood defences in England and over 205,000 properties have been protected.
Trains have also suffered disruption with services in west Wales and from Newport and Bristol to the south coast affected by the weather. There were also delays at the Port of Dover because of force five winds.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said: "The worst of the bad weather is not yet over so I've chaired an emergency meeting of all departments involved to make sure that preparations to respond are in hand.
"Our flood defences have worked very well and have protected 205,000 homes at risk.
"I'd like to thank the Environment Agency, local councils, public utilities and emergency services who have worked tirelessly over the last week. I'd also like to thank soldiers from 36 Engineer Regiment and 2 Royal Gurkha Rifles who have helped to fill additional sandbags today in Kent.
"I would urge all those in at risk areas to sign up to the Environment Agency warnings and listen to advice being issued."
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