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One dead, 150 evacuated and homes flooded as rain just keeps on coming

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: November 26, 2012

The fallen tree which struck and killed a homeless woman in Exeter who was sheltering in a tent underneath. Photo: Rob Sims

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A woman sleeping in a tent has become the second fatality of the flooding which has hit the Westcountry in the wake of days of relentless heavy rain.

Widespread disruption was experienced throughout the region, which bore the brunt of the terrible weather lashing the UK.

More than 250 properties in Devon and Cornwall were affected by floodwater yesterday and an estimated 150 people who were evacuated on Saturday night after downpours on already-saturated land caused numerous rivers to break their banks.

Torrents of muddy water surged through communities, with those in Newlyn, Mevagissey, Lostwithiel, Polperro and Millbrook in Cornwall worst affected, with the latter under a reported 5ft of water at one point.

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Across the Tamar, victims of the atrocious conditions included vast swathes of Devon, which had already been hit by the worst of the weather from last week.

Plymouth, Exeter and Exmouth were all affected, while the residents of Kennford, near Exeter, found themselves under several inches of water when the River Kenn – normally little more than a stream – burst its banks.

North Devon was virtually cut off for a time on Saturday when its main roads, the A377 Crediton road and the A361 North Devon Link Road, became impassable.

In Exeter, a 21-year-old woman was said to have been killed "instantaneously" when a tree growing in the grounds of an empty ex-council building was blown down, crashing on to the tent where she was sleeping, near to the Western Way ring road.

A resident living in the row of houses opposite said she heard "a crash" then "a girl screaming".

The woman, who did want to be named, said: "I just feel really shocked. It was windy, but there was this time when it just seemed to pick up – I heard a noise, a girl screaming and looked out of the window but could not see anything."

Police superintendent Sarah Sharpe said: "Sadly three people were involved in the incident in Exeter and a lady was fatally injured."

She added the woman was from Exeter and next of kin had been informed, although a formal identification had not taken place as the Western Morning News went to press.

The other two people injured were aged 27 and 35.

The heavy rain had claimed its first fatality in Somerset last week, when a man died after his car became submerged in the rising water and was trapped beneath a bridge.

At The Ride, Plymstock, 23 people were rescued by boat after their homes flooded. They were among 60 people rescued from a dozen sites across Plymouth.

In Devon as a whole, county council workers were working flat out to deal with the aftermath of flooding at properties in Kingsteignton, Topsham, Exmouth, Sidmouth, Feniton, Tiverton, Newton Abbot and across the South Hams.

A rest centre was set up in Cullompton for residents of 25 properties at Rivermead, which became inundated and had to be evacuated by police and fire crews.

Yesterday, residents of Millbrook, Cornwall, were beginning the clean-up operation.

Bill Dearing, 61, who owns the local Spar shop, was one and said it was heartbreaking: "This is my business and my livelihood."

The shop owner, who has lived in the village for 14 years, added that the floods took everyone by surprise after the water levels rose dramatically in half an hour.

In Newlyn, numerous homeowners and businesses were also counting the cost when the river burst its banks creating a 2ft-deep pool of water in the town centre.

Norman and Janette Hoblyn described how the fast-moving water suddenly overtopped a bridge, then came surging down towards their cottage.

"The water was raging down the valley then next minute it was on the road and covering the road," said Mr Hoblyn. "We realised that it was going to be bad, so we rolled up the carpets and took them upstairs and we took things like electrical, photos and books upstairs as well."

At a charity shop run by the Trinity Methodist Church, methodist minister Julyan Drew said the filthy water had gushed in the front door and swept straight through the ground floor of the premises.

Last night the EnvironmentAgency issued 57 flood warnings and 60 flood alerts.

Helston was the only place in the South West to remain on the highest level, with a severe flood warning issued after the level of the River Cober rose to dangerous levels.

Prime Minister David Cameron spoke of his shock at the extent of the devastation.

He said on Twitter: "Shocking scenes of flooding. Govt will help ensure everything is being done to help."

Meanwhile Environment Minister Richard Benyon told BBC Breakfast: "We recognise that while somewhere over 400 homes have been flooded, we have actually managed to protect over 24,000 homes by recently constructed flood defences, and so that is, if you like, the silver lining to this cloud."

Fallen trees and deep water leave West stranded as transport links shut down

Motorists and rail travellers in the Westcountry have been thrown into chaos as roads and railways remain under feet of water.Police closed dozens of major and minor routes to traffic, leaving some of the worst-hit communities virtually isolated and large parts of Devon and Cornwall cut off completely.First Great Western lifted restrictions on tickets after services out of Exeter and Plymouth were cancelled, leaving thousands to resort to replacement buses.The M5 motorway junctions 25 and 26 were closed after flooding and the A30 into Honiton was also blocked.As darkness fell last night there were reports a tree had toppled across the A38 near Landrake, severing a main westward artery.Drivers were unable to go east or west out of Exeter after the A377 road to Crediton was deemed impassable and the main A376 Exmouth road also closed.South of the Tamar, the A39 at Perranworthal was closed, as was the A3071 out to St Just.Motoring group the AA reported its busiest ever period for flood-related call-outs, as motorists took their chances on perilous roads.Devon and Cornwall police said officers had dealt with “numerous” reports of people stuck in their cars in the flood water.The force reported “significant disruption” to the road network affecting both local and main roads and warned drivers to beware as another night of rain was forecast.Supt Sarah Sharpe said: “The roads remain a risk in many areas due to surface water and flooding, abandoned vehicles, debris and fallen tree branches.“We are expecting more rain in the next ten to 12 hours and our message to people is to stay indoors, stay safe and be cautious.The AA said it had attended more than 5,000 breakdowns nationally by 1pm yesterday – including 402 cars driven through or stuck in flood water. Breakdowns were being reported at a rate of more than 1,100 every hour and by midnight the organisation expected to have attended around 12,000 for the day, compared with around 8,500 on an average Sunday, and eclipsing Wednesday’s previous record.First Great Western told passengers to stay at home if possible and said tickets from Saturday and Sunday would remain valid today where journeys had been hit.Spokesman James Davis said Network Rail was working to clear waterlogged tracks into Tiverton and Liskeard.“Water has flooded the lines and the clear instruction from Network Rail is it is not safe to drive a train through,” he added.Cornwall Fire and Rescue had received more than 50 calls by 5pm yesterday.

Rainy days and Mondays... weather set to improve after today

Brighter and drier weather is on the cards for the Westcountry later this week – but not before another soaking today.

Forecasters said the region should brace itself for the worst of the weather today, with heavy downpours expected across areas which have already suffered flooding.

It comes after a few short days in which many areas have experienced a whole month's worth of rainfall.

Tim Thorne, forecaster at the Exeter-based Met Office, said the start of the week would see another deluge. "We will be seeing some heavy showers, particularly across Cornwall and western parts of Devon," he said, adding that Somerset would probably have "a respite from the bad weather".

"However, this rain will also be accompanied by strong north westerly winds and it will be getting fairly chilly," he said.

Mr Thorne said that in the 24 hours to midday yesterday Bastreet on Bodmin was the wettest place in the region, having experienced 51.6mm of rain. In the same timeframe, Plymouth had 46.6mm of rain and the Isles of Scilly had 43mm.

However, the picture is improving, said Mr Thorne.

"I think by the middle of the week it will be drier and brighter in our region, but it will be getting colder. There will be one of two showers but by and large the weather will be brighter.

"There may even be a touch of frost by the end of the week," he said.

Fire crews warning over standing water

Fire crews in Devon and Somerset have urged residents not to drive through floodwater after attending 51 incidents of people stranded in their cars in one 24-hour period. Group manager Chris Blackburn said attending incidents which could have been prevented had diverted crews from other work where lives may be at risk. “It is impossible for motorists to tell how deep water is or the effect it may have on their vehicles, particularly after dark. If people do see floodwater on the road, they should not attempt to drive through it but should try to find an alternative route.”

Woman hospitalised in crash amid storms

A woman was cut free from her vehicle and taken to hospital after a two-car smash in Devon in the midst of the storms. The fire rescue crews were called to the incident in Paignton yesterday afternoon. The woman was freed from her car by a team using specialist hydraulic cutting gear and rushed to hospital by ambulance. The incident at Dartmouth Road was one of more than 500 attended by DSFRS on Saturday evening and Sunday. A spokesman said the woman was "conveyed to the hospital by ambulance before crews made the area safe".

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  • accom  |  November 28 2012, 7:37AM

    Lol I think -45 (so far) is a record negative score!

  • Sconewars  |  November 27 2012, 10:54PM

    Take the time to ask those who work with the homeless of Devon. There are many people of this age and younger who are homeless. There are many reasons: family breakdown, familial abuse (physical and sexual), mental health problems. The list goes on.

    |   5
  • moorejayne  |  November 27 2012, 4:02PM

    exonian,no these flats were vacant.

  • accom  |  November 27 2012, 7:07AM

    Odd for a 21 year-old to be homeless. Where are her family?

    |   -19
  • Exonian  |  November 26 2012, 10:46PM

    moorejayne - would it be too simplistic to suggest that the one bed flats are occupied by families waiting to move into a place with more bedrooms? I suspect there aren't 1 bed flats readily available - just lots of people wanting to upsize and hoping thatsomeone willing to downsize comes along.

    |   6
  • moorejayne  |  November 26 2012, 3:39PM

    did the council offer her a 1 bed flat to live in ? they told me there are lots of nice 1 bedroom places out there for me to downsize to, if so why are the homeless still homeless ? and i do understand that some may choose to live on the streets .condolences to the family of the young woman who died.

    |   7
  • Incredulous2  |  November 26 2012, 11:26AM

    accom - do you honestly think it was through choice?

    |   17
  • Stuboy13  |  November 26 2012, 11:23AM

    @ accom: I think you'll find if you read the article she was homeless.

    |   11
  • skareggae72  |  November 26 2012, 11:22AM

    She was homeless.

    |   19
  • accom  |  November 26 2012, 10:43AM

    What was she doing sleeping in a tent in this weather?

    |   -49