Six fishermen were forced to leap one-by-one from their storm-battered boat during a dramatic rescue as the Westcountry received yet another hammering from the winter weather at the weekend.
Fresh damage is now being assessed across Devon and Cornwall as the latest in a relentless series of storms saw huge waves pummel already vulnerable defences.
While the impact of the storm-surge and high tides was not as bad as had been feared, a number of coastal communities were flooded again.
Forecasters have warned the worst is not yet over with severe flood warnings in place for this morning and three days of heavy rain ahead.
Rescuers were yesterday praised for their bravery after the crew of stricken French fishing boat were saved from “treacherous” seas off the Cornish coast.
The fishermen were forced to abandon ship one at a time into heaving seas – to be winched aboard the search-and-rescue helicopter from RNAS Culdrose – after it was deemed too dangerous to lift them off the deck.
The boat, Le Sillon, had been hit by a series of large waves and began drifting on Saturday afternoon, some five miles off Trevose Head, after losing power and steering.
With winds gusting up to 60mph, five of the crew were plucked from the water by the Royal Navy helicopter while the other was recovered by Padstow’s all-weather lifeboat. There are no reported injuries.
Martin Bidmead, watch manager at Falmouth Coastguard, said conditions had been “treacherous with gale force winds, high tides and heavy rain”.
Padstow lifeboat coxswain Richard Pitman added: “A great deal of credit must go the winchman on the helicopter, the heavy sea conditions made his job very difficult as he was dragged in and out of the water with the rise and fall of the sea. The conditions were challenging and it was a difficult rescue for all involved, we are pleased to have been able to assist.”
The fishing boat is now being smashed onto rocks on the coast near Porthcothan after attempts to tow it to safety failed. Falmouth Coastguard said there was a heavy smell of diesel in the area while the fishing boat had also spilled its catch.
Six “threat to life warnings” had been issued by the Environment covering both north and south coasts of Devon and Cornwall as high tides swept in on Saturday.
All were briefly downgraded to flood warnings. By yesterday afternoon the highest severe flood warning was back in place for the coast from Lands End to Plymouth, excluding Truro and Plymouth Barbican.
High tide this morning mon is between 7am and 8am.
The Environment Agency said there “may be an increased risk at Stonehouse, Plympton, Lamorna, Penzance, Porthleven, Mullion, Pentewan, Seaton and Kingsand”. It has issued 21 flood warnings for the South West as well as 31 flood alerts.
Cornwall Council, which set up an emergency management centre at New County Hall in Truro, had crews out in Perranporth, Wadebridge, Looe, Bude, Portreath and St Ives last night.
Wharf Road in St Ives was closed and an elderly lady was treated for minor cuts and bruises after waves smashed a window in her seafront home.
The main road in Bude had to be closed with waves overtopping defences causing flooding. Firefighters pumped water from three properties in Perranporth where Beach Road had to be closed.
A previous road collapse on Towan Beach Road, in Newquay, also reopened under the weight of the storm surge.
No further damage was reported at the harbour wall in Portreath where it was feared dozens of homes might have to be evacuated.
While the weather has brightened up yesterday, the Environment Agency warned the whole of the south of England will be at an “increased risk” of flooding within the next 24 hours.
Flood risk manager, Kate Marks, said: “With further severe weather conditions expected in the coming days, the Environment Agency is likely to issue further warnings so people should check their flood risk and get early warnings so they can take action to protect their property.”
The Met Office has issued severe weather warnings of winds of up to 80mph and heavy rain of up to 30mm (1.2in) for the South West, southern England, south Wales and Northern Ireland from today monuntil Wednesday.
A Met Office spokesman said: “A deepening low pressure system will track northwards close to western Britain on Sunday night with the associated frontal system likely to bring another spell of heavy rain and gales to western and southwestern areas during Monday.
“Another 10-20mm of rain, perhaps with 30mm or more locally, is possible in areas already saturated.”