Developing

More Storms Threaten Christmas Eve Travel Plans

Severe storms are once again threatening to throw the Christmas travel plans of thousands of passengers across the UK into disarray.

Strong gales and heavy rains are forecast to sweep most of the country bringing travel chaos to people hoping to get home in time for Christmas.

The Environment Agency has issued hundreds of flood warnings  across all of England and Wales, with a severe flood warning - the highest level- warning of danger to life in the South West, where properties are expected to flood.

Widespread rail delays and cancellations are expected to hit commuters this morning and the Highways Agency has warned of widespread localised flooding and road closures.

There are no trains to Gatwick or Stansted airports this morning and services to Heathrow are affected by delays.

Southern Railway have advised passengers not to make any plans to travel today until further notice because of damage caused by the storm overnight.

South West Trains said there would be no service before 10am due to 35 trees blocking lines and flooding across the network.

Maintenance teams have been working through the night to carry out repairs and clear blocked lines.

Power supply problems have also affected signalling with the West of England and Portsmouth lines worst affected.

Customers were being advised to check the latest travel situation before starting their journeys .

A spokesman for the South West Trains-Network Rail Alliance said: "The past 24 hours have been very difficult for our customers and we are sorry they have faced significant disruption.

"It has also been a tough time for our frontline teams across the network who have been working extremely hard in difficult conditions to keep trains running.

"Weather forecasters expect the worst of the extreme conditions to be over by the early hours of the morning, allowing us to run trains that check the lines are safe for passenger services.

"We would like to thank customers for their patience while we carry out this essential work, which will mean a later start than normal for our services."

Some 900 passengers were stuck on the Spirit of Britain ferry outside Dover for some 14 hours as it was considered too dangerous to enter Dover harbour.

The ship left Calais last night and is attempting to reach the harbour this morning.

Digvijay Rathod told Sky News: "Many people haven't slept. I have 53 people to take care of. There are mothers, there are children who have been sick.

"It's been a tough night - people just want to get home. We left Calais at 4pm and we were supposed to reach here within two hours.

"It was really choppy. Things were falling out of shelves, people were not able to stand properly. We were instructed to be seated and not move around. People were panicking a bit."

Southern Electric Power Distribution said 27,000 homes were without power in the East Berkshire and North Hamsphire area this morning and reported their engineers found the conditions too challenging to work in during the night.

Western Power reported 2100 homes without power across the South West while Northern Powergrid said 650 homes were without power in Yorkshire.

As storms swept the UK on Monday, thousands of homes were left without power and road, rail, air and sea passengers were left stranded.

Police urged people to stay away from the water's edge following the deaths of two people who were caught in rivers.

A 48-year-old man, from Lancaster, was swept away by the River Rothay in Ambleside, Cumbria, after he and a dog were spotted in the river.

His body was recovered after a search by emergency services while the dog managed to get out of the water, police said.

A woman also died in a river in Gwynedd, North Wales. Rescue teams were called to Nant Ffrancon, Bethesda, on Monday afternoon but the woman was pronounced dead at the scene.

Ogwen Valley Mountain Rescue team spokesman Paul Smith said: "It seems the woman had gone out to check the water supply to her house.

"A little while later her partner noticed she had gone and raised the alarm.

"The place she was found is just 50 metres from her house. It's a small stream that runs off the mountain - about half a metre wide and three quarters of a metre deep - but it was in full flow."

This morning the Environment Agency has some 258 flood alerts and 104 severe flood warnings in place, about 80 of which were in the South West and South East.

A sign is almost completely submerged in flood water after heavy rain and strong winds cause chaos in Cambridgeshire. (Geoffrey Robinson/REX)
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Robin Gisby, managing director of network operations at Network Rail, said staff cleared about 80 trees from lines and overhead wires to help get passengers home.

Hundreds of engineers have been out clearing tracks and fixing damage overnight, he said, and staff will be checking lines this morning to get trains running as soon as possible.

Mr Gisby added: "Some routes will start up a little later than usual, and so our advice to anyone planning to travel is to check with their train operator or national rail enquiries before they set off and to leave extra time for their journey.

"Rest assured we will do everything we can to get everyone where they need to be for Christmas."

Christmas Day is expected to be calmer with just a few wintry showers in the north and west, while Boxing Day looks mainly fine, but stormy conditions look set to return on Friday.

Meanwhile,  the RNLI released footage of the rescue of a Labrador swept out to sea and thought by its owner to be dead.

The pair had been out walking when it went into the waters off Sea Palling, on the north Norfolk coast, and was taken away by the tide. The RNLI crew took to their boats and searched the reefs half a mile off the coast for the dog.

The crew finally heard barking coming from one of the reefs and there found the animal cold, wet and frightened, but otherwise unhurt.

The Environment Agency Flood Line can be contacted on 0845 988 1188 for advice and up to date information.

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