UK storms: Coastal areas in west hit by renewed gales

Waves crash over the main Exeter to Plymouth railway line that has been closed due to parts of it being washed away by the sea on February 8, 2014 Work continues on the closed railway line at Dawlish, Devon amid a fresh storm

Gales have continued to batter southern parts of the UK, with coastal areas hit by wind and rain.

Gusts reached 80mph on the coasts of Cornwall, the Bristol Channel and west Wales and the Environment Agency says there is a risk of further floods.

In Surrey, the River Thames has burst its banks at Chertsey, with homeowners warned to expect flooding.

Landslips and floods mean all rail routes into south-west England are now blocked.

First Great Western said a landslip at Crewkerne in Somerset meant there were no services running between Yeovil and Exeter and replacement buses were in operation.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles: "It will get worse before it gets better"

Routes into the West Country from London via Bridgwater and Castle Cary were already blocked because of flooding.

In Dawlish, where a key line between Devon and Cornwall was destroyed by waves on Tuesday, concrete has been sprayed onto the cliff behind the track to make the area safer in the face of continuing high winds and large waves.

Network Rail said work at the site was "progressing well" in six-hour shifts in between high tides.

At the scene

The forecast is for strong winds and high tides but conditions on the Cornish Coast have not been as severe as earlier this week.

North Cornwall has seen choppy swell, bouts of hail and some fierce gusts, but also sporadic outbursts of sunshine.

Devon and Cornwall police are dealing with weather-related incidents, but have received far fewer calls than during Tuesday's storm.

The Highways Agency has been responding to reports of downed trees blocking roads.

A coastal marathon has been rerouted, but sporting events are going ahead.

The Red Bull storm chaser windsurfing challenge was moved south from the choppy swell at Gwithian to the Hayle bluff.

Jay Barrett, 28, from St Agnes, was enjoying a breezy beach stroll at Hayle with his wife and two dogs and said: "This is great - embrace it!"

Meanwhile, the village of Moorland in Somerset, where about 80 homes were evacuated after the local water level rose by about one metre overnight on Thursday, breaching temporary flood defences in the early hours of Friday, is among three areas subject to severe flood warnings.

In other developments:

  • A seven-year-old boy has died and 17 people have been taken to hospital after police attended an incident at Thameside, Chertsey, in an area affected by flooding - but officers say "there is no indication that there is a connection directly to the flooding"
  • Coastguards in Devon said they were expecting "phenomenal" waves about 12 miles offshore, possibly reaching 45ft (14m) in height
  • In Birmingham an elderly woman was taken to hospital with serious injuries after a tree fell on to a car in Yardley
  • The Environment Agency is moving more staff from north-west England to flood-hit areas further south
  • Flybe is increasing its number of weekday flights between Gatwick and Newquay in Cornwall to six from three
  • Rail operator First Great Western has put in place special ticketing arrangements so that passengers affected by flood disruption can buy cheaper advance fares while revised timetables are put in place
  • On the M25, two of four lanes were closed clockwise between Junction 16 and 17 because of flooding
  • In the same area, link roads from the M40 onto the M25 clockwise were closed as flooding spread from surrounding fields onto the carriageway. The Highways Agency said normal traffic conditions should be restored on Sunday
  • Fire crews are dealing with rising floodwater which is threatening an important electricity substation near Reading. They are bringing in a high-volume pump from Hertfordshire because Berkshire's pump is being used in Somerset. The substation is thought to serve about 40,000 homes and businesses
  • Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, who chaired a meeting of the government's Cobra emergency committee earlier, said it was looking closely at the South West where a storm was gathering to make sure pumping could start at the right time. He also said preparations were being made to protect water and electrical plants, and transport infrastructure in the Thames Valley area where water levels are expected to rise again next week
  • The Ministry of Defence has put 1,500 personnel on notice to help with the aftermath of flooding in southern England if needed

The Conservative MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset, Ian Liddell-Grainger, said river levels in his constituency remained "enormously high" and people there were "having to batten down again to prepare for the next storm".

Concrete sprayed on cliffs in Dawlish on 8 February 2014 Engineers repairing the railway track in Dawlish have begun to spray concrete on the cliff behind the line
Professional windsurfer in Gwithian, in Cornwall, Professional windsurfers have travelled to Gwithian, in Cornwall, to ride the waves despite warnings from coastguards
Flooded road near Chertsey Chertsey in Surrey was one of the areas suffering fresh flooding on Saturday
Angel on the Bridge pub in Henley on 8 February 2014 Flooding was also affecting the River Thames at Henley in Oxfordshire
Floodwater threatening a substation near Reading Floodwater near Reading in Berkshire was threatening an electricity substation
Landslip by railway track at Crewkerne, Somerset A landslip on the rail line at Crewkerne, Somerset, means all routes into the South West are now cut off

He again criticised the Environment Agency and its head, the former Labour cabinet minister Lord Smith, for not dredging in the area to prepare for storms.

"We have been let down by London," he said. "On the ground they [Environment Agency staff] are working hard. Up in London I do not know what they are doing."

At the scene

A little over a month ago, troops from 7th Battalion The Rifles were patrolling under the heat of the Afghan sun. In Berkshire, they are part of response to this latest torrid weather.

Around 60 soldiers are helping to lay down sandbags outside the Pingewood substation a few miles from their barracks in Reading - in an attempt to halt the relentless progress of flood water.

Another 20 soldiers are heading for Chieveley services where they will fill up bags from a supply of sand.

Their commanding officer said they were put on standby on Friday evening.

All the soldiers are reservists. Among those scooping the sand bags off the trucks and building the barricades are bin men, doctors, a financial advisor and an actor.

The BBC Weather Centre said high seas and large waves would continue throughout Saturday in many southern and western coastal areas.

But it said the tides were not as high as their spring tide peak last weekend.

A Met Office amber warning advising people to be prepared for strong winds is in effect for south-west England and Wales and the South coast.

An amber rain warning for southern England has expired, but a less severe yellow warning is valid until 06:00 GMT on Sunday.

The yellow warning covers the entire south of England plus parts of the Midlands and much of Wales.

The Met Office says winds will increase from the south west during the course of Saturday with gales affecting coastal districts. Further inland, gusts of 50-60 mph are likely.

Wales, north-west England and south-west Scotland could get 20-30mm (1in) of rain through the course of Saturday.

The strong winds are expected to last into Sunday morning but forecasters said most areas would have some respite from the stormy conditions on Sunday.

Monday would be a quiet day but wet and windy weather would return on Tuesday.

Defences breached

The Environment Agency has three severe flood warnings - which mean "danger to life" - in place, two in Somerset and one for Chiswell in the Isle of Portland.

The agency has also issued more than 180 flood warnings and almost 300 flood alerts.

Weather information

Flooding at Burrowbridge on the Somerset Levels

Downing Street confirmed on Saturday that the prime minister received a letter from local farmers last September in which they asked for government funds to help with flood protection and dredging.

The request, for £1m, was passed on to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and declined by the floods minister at the time, Richard Benyon.

Mr Benyon, who is no longer a minister, told the BBC his decision was likely to have been taken on the basis of the "best available information" at the time.

He said the department received endless proposals for funding and needed to manage flood defences across the country.

"I'm not saying everything was got right on the [Somerset] Levels but... we have had the worst amount of rainfall since 1760 and to tie this argument down to one letter or one event; it's much more complicated than that."

Shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle said it was the "latest proof of neglect by the government".

"This is further evidence that David Cameron made the wrong decision on flood protection funding and shows that neither he nor his environment secretary take the issue of flooding seriously."

On Friday, Mr Cameron admitted there were "lessons to learn" from the flooding and said it had been "wrong" for the Environment Agency to pause dredging in the 1990s.

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