Hopes were fading for a woman swept into flood water in the West Midlands, as Britons braced for another day of disruption after one of the worst winter storms of recent times.
More than 230 flood warnings were still in place across the UK on Monday morning. The scale of flooding was described as unprecedented in Wales, where a man died after falling into the River Tawe.
Related: Storm Dennis – in pictures
The alerts from environmental authorities include five severe warnings in Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Shropshire, which mean there is a danger to life. Forecasters said river levels in parts of northern England had yet to reach their peak.
The search for the woman, who went missing near TenburyWells in Worcestershire, will be a recovery operation rather than a rescue mission, according to police. Officers said a man who was airlifted to hospital during the incident was in a stable condition.
The search, which was called off on Sunday night owing to “extremely challenging” conditions, including darkness and fast-flowing water, resumed on Monday morning with a police helicopter.
Hereford and surrounding villages were inundated by flood water, after the River Wye reached its highest levels on record, with the water at Old Wye Bridge in Hereford peaking at 6.11m (20ft) by midday on Monday.
Dave Throup, from the Environment Agency, said the river had reached “exceptional levels”, explaining they were the highest since records began 200 years ago. Churches and leisure centres opened their doors to take in evacuated residents.
In one area, roads were reported to have been submerged in 6ft of flood water, according to Laura Yarwood, a local resident. The 32-year-old nursery owner evacuated her home in nearby Bodenham on Saturday due to flood warnings, and said the village had since been completely cut off.
“I think most of the villages in Hereford have been cut off and I think there’ve been quite a few evacuations. It’s just crazy,” she said. “It’s the worst anyone in Hereford has ever seen it to be, and the fact that communities are being evacuated, that’s unheard of.”
Families in other parts of the country were returning to their flood-hit homes to assess millions of pounds worth of damage caused by Storm Dennis, which brought winds of more than 90mph and up to 150mm (6in) of rain to some areas over the weekend.
A month’s worth of rain fell in a 24-hour deluge, causing rivers to swell and burst their banks across towns and villages in south Wales. Hundreds of evacuated families spent Sunday night in emergency shelters.
The flooding took thousands of people by surprise, and environment officials at the Welsh government say they will review its warning systems.
Sian Williams, the head of operations for north-west Wales at Natural Resources Wales, said: “This is unprecedented. The worst-hit area was from the Brecon Beacons into the south Wales valleys.
“We have had some of the highest levels we have ever seen in some rivers. The Taff reached its highest level in over 40 years. This is unprecedented in terms of the scale of the rainfall and the levels of the rivers as well.”
In Pontypridd, where people were trying to come to terms with the impact of the storm, the owner of a historic pub said the flood water inside had been 5ft deep.
Geraint Day, 47, the chairman of the Clwb Y Bont pub, next to the Taff, said: “We were out helping families on Sunday as those whose homes have been affected are worse off than us.
“The cost of our loss of stock will be about £1,000. But the financial loss will be the cost of reopening. If the damage is bad and it takes months to repair, then we are talking a lot of money.”
Gordon Churchill, an RAF veteran who woke on his 96th birthday to find the first floor of his home underwater, said: “The only thing I’ve managed to save are medals from the war. It’s ruined. Everything. I’ve lost everything.”
He was rescued from the property in Nantgarw, south Wales, with his daughter Carolyn, who said: “At the time I just grabbed every towel and blanket I could find and pushed them up against the front door. We had already got sandbags there because sometimes the front floods a small amount with the drains.”
The aftermath of the storm continued to cause transport disruption on Monday as train lines and roads were blocked by flooding and fallen trees.
Network Rail was assessing the repairs needed to reopen parts of the railway damaged by torrential downpours and strong winds.
CrossCountry, Great Western Railway, Northern, South Western Railway, Southern, Thameslink and Transport for Wales were among the operators reporting delays and cancellations.
West Mercia police advised motorists not to drive through flooded roads, warning that water levels remained high in many areas across Shropshire. Surrey police said there would be significant delays into the morning rush hour.