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Floods continue to cause chaos in Devon

By marcprosser  |  Posted: December 23, 2012

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By Emma Glanfield, Philippa Jenkins and Marc Prosser

Emergency services from across Devon and Somerset have continued to work throughout the night and morning with several peoples lives put at risk from the severe flooding.

People in Braunton, Umberleigh, Barnstaple and Bishops Tawton all suffered from the Rivers Yeo and Caen bursting their banks causing mass evacuations to take place.

The fire service's group commander Neil Blackburn said one of the most dramatic incidents of the night was the rescue of a family from the flooded river at Umberleigh.

He said: "We were called to the scene at 12.37am and the family were stuck in their car about 60 metres into the river so the access for us was the most difficult and dangerous.

"The water was moving very quickly but we managed to rescue the father and son but the woman was still out there and clinging to a bush.

"The search and rescue helicopter from Chivenor was called but time was running out.

"The RNLI crew with us from Wales took the decision to use their powered boat to get to her.

"I feared the worst but it was a very professional rescue by the RNLI and they got the woman in time.

"The three people were safely rescued and paramedics treated them at the scene."

Robin Goodlad, the RNLI's Incident Commander during operations in the Barnstaple area, said: "This was a very heroic rescue, there are no two ways about it."

The woman had been in a car with her husband and son when they were trapped by floodwater. The husband and son were rescued by passers-by and the RNLI said the woman had tried to clamber to safety onto the top of the car but was swept away in doing so.

She managed to grab hold of a branch and clung on while a police helicopter hovered overhead.

The RNLI's Arancia class boat with Chris Missen and Paul Eastman from Porthcawl in Wales and Martin Blaker-Rowe, an RNLI College trainer onboard then took a 'huge risk' and looked for the woman.

Robin said: "These three volunteers were working in complete darkness, in an environment they had never been in before and ideally this should have been a two-boat operation. They had a pinpoint light of the police helicopter to locate the woman.

"They got the woman into the boat. She had been in the water for 50 minutes and the guys are gobsmacked that she is alive and if they had not picked her up in that boat she would have been floating away downstream.

"They were fully aware of the risks. This was a high risk operation with a high benefit and they decided to get on with it."

Mr Blackburn also said he was involved in rescuing an elderly couple from Bishops Tawton as well as two dogs.

He added: "It has been very challenging and crews from across the region have been on duty. Crews from Plymouth, Yeovil and Okehampton were all on duty last night."

Mr Blackburn said the clear up operation in Braunton, one of the worst affected areas, would continue today.

He said: "The River Caen did breach again but preventative measures put in place yesterday meant the effects were less.

"The centre we had set up at Braunton School was available to everyone who has been displaced although the community spirit in Braunton has been so strong that a lot of people flooded have gone to their neighbours.

"The specialist pumps have been pumping water out of the village all night and today we will be focusing on getting water out of the businesses, delivering sandbags and unblocking areas which are stopping the water from escaping.

"The roads are clearing and our priority has been to keep the A361 clear up to Chivenor Cross to allow emergency vehicles through."

Several people were evacuated from their homes at Velator, just outside Braunton, at 7.30pm and there are still concerns about the security of Score Farm Bridge in Braunton.

Emergency services still believe there is a risk it could collapse.

Mr Blackburn said he had dealt with a number of incidents on Exmoor where people had got stuck in their cars.

He said: "People just don't realise how deep the water is until they have driven into it. We are still urging people not to travel unless they have to."

Mr Blackburn said emergency services will be working throughout today and are preparing for the further rain forecast for tonight.

Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue said it had also dealt with numerous other flooding incidents in the county overnight and this morning. Areas affected included  Barnstaple, Combe Martin, Braunton, Tiverton and Totnes.

Crews used 4x4 vehicles, specialist rescue equipment and boats to rescue persons from properties who were elderly or in need of medical assistance. High volume pumps were used to pump water out of some properties and crews assisted residents to preserve personal property.reported 

On the roads, flooding is causing severe disruptions to traffic. 

As of 11am, some of the affect roads include:

A377 at Chumleig, A379 in Modbury, A388 in Liftondown near Polson, A396 between Cawley and Rewe and the A3072 in Bickleigh. 

Rail connections have also been severely disrupted with First Great Western reporting that trains are unable to operate between Taunton and Plymouth. A limited bus service has been put in place, but First Great Western are reporting that it is being hampered by flooded roads. Services between Exeter and Barnstable have been completely suspended with no replacement road transport available.

Forecasters are predicting a brief let-up today, before more heavy rain hits the region later this evening.

A yellow-graded weather warning, the lowest kind issued by the Met Office, remains in place for the whole of Devon and Cornwall today. A more severe amber-graded heavy rain warning is then in place for the region from midnight until 6pm on Monday.

A chief forecaster at the Met Office said: "A series of active frontal systems with strong to gale force winds will move north-eastwards across most parts of the UK on Sunday.

"This will bring bands of heavy rain to many areas. Rainfall totals of 20-30mm are expected fairly widely, but 50mm or more may fall in some locations – particularly exposed upland areas of the South West.

"Yet another active frontal system is expected to affect parts of England and Wales during Christmas Eve.

"An additional 10-20mm could fall quite widely across southwest England with 30mm or more over some areas. Following heavy rainfall during previous days and given already saturated ground, this rain is likely to lead to both surface water and river flooding issues."

The two severe flood warnings which were in place for the River Yeo and the River Caen last night have this morning been downgraded to flood warnings, meaning they no longer pose a danger to life.

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