'Exceptional weather' with rain, wind and high tides to hit UK

BBC forecaster Peter Gibbs explains the areas that are likely to be worst affected

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A period of "exceptional weather" bringing rain, wind and high tides is set to hit the UK, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has said.

The Environment Agency issued several severe flood warnings - indicating a danger to life - for south-west England, Gloucestershire and Wales.

Tidal flooding is expected in "numerous locations" on Friday due to large waves, high tides and strong winds.

Mr Paterson said ministers were working to ensure all agencies were prepared.

He was speaking after chairing a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee, in which the UK's flood response was discussed.

Dozens of flood warnings are in place in England, Wales and Scotland.

The Met Office has issued yellow weather warnings - the lowest of its three levels - for rain and high winds on Friday in Northern Ireland and western parts of Scotland, Wales and England.

Further warnings have also been issued for Sunday.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland has said there is potential for flooding in a number of areas across the country, including Belfast, as a result of a tidal surge expected at midday on Friday.

And Devon and Cornwall Police and the Isles of Scilly Council have declared a major incident as waves of more than 30ft (10m) are predicted to hit the coasts in those areas.

Cornwall's emergency management centre will be opened in Truro to co-ordinate the response in the county.

A man rides a bicycle through flood water Much of the UK had better weather on Thursday, but more rain is expected
A man and his dog stand looking at flood water on a road The Met Office has issued weather warnings for rain and high winds on Friday

Many of the severe flood warnings relate to the north and south coasts of Cornwall and Devon, with the highest risk of flooding expected for two to four hours either side of Friday morning's high tides.

High water is expected at 05:42 GMT at Penzance, 06:54 at Plymouth, 07:05 at Barnstaple and 07:57 further along the south coast at Weymouth in Dorset.

In Wales, the Environment Agency issued a severe flood warning for area of Barmouth on the west coast, saying widespread flooding of properties was likely and that stones and other debris in the waves could seriously injure people.

The agency also issued severe warnings for Greenfield to Bagillt and the Point of Ayr in north Wales and the Usk Estuary at Crindau in the south.

Three severe warnings are also in place around the River Severn downstream from Gloucester.

The agency's head of strategy, Pete Fox, said the expected flooding was due to "a combination of strong winds, large waves and high tides, from the early hours of Friday and into the weekend".

"Coastal paths and promenades could be highly dangerous as there is an increased risk of being swept out to sea. People are warned to stay away from the shoreline," he said.

Geoff Matthews, from HM Coastguard, said people should avoid visiting coastal areas.

"Even a relatively small wave has the power to knock a large man off his feet and take them out to sea in the undertow," he said.

Travel disruption

The AA said some motorists were failing to heed flood warnings.

Travel news: Choose an area

The motoring organisation said it had been to 1,500 call-outs from stranded drivers since 23 December.

Darron Burness, head of the AA's flood rescue team, said: "Our patrols have seen it all in that time - including people ignoring road closure signs, blindly following their sat nav or other drivers into deep water, and 4x4 drivers naively thinking their car has amphibious qualities."

Flooding disrupted a number of train services on Thursday.

A man wades through water, pulling a boat in which a woman is sitting There was more flooding in Yalding, Kent, which was affected last week
A man uses a stick to test the depth of water outside a house Householders in parts of Kent have been given sandbags to protect their homes

Thousands of homes have suffered power cuts due to the recent storms, with some cut off for several days, while numerous properties have been flooded.

In other developments:

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