Flood Defences Pushed To Limit As More Rain Due

Torrential winter storms have brought chaos to large parts of England and Wales, with roads closed, cars submerged and one village evacuated.

Residents of Wallington in Hampshire have been told to leave their homes because of fears the flood defences could be breached.

Across the country, the AA has rescued more than 300 cars that have become stuck in floodwaters.

And forecasters are warning of worse to come as the torrential rain showed no sign of letting up in the the run-up to Christmas.

So far southern and south western England has been the worst affected, with deluges in Devon, Cornwall and Hampshire leading to more than an inch of rain in some places.

Forecasters have warned that up to an inch could fall over Cornwall on Friday night, causing further havoc in areas where the ground is already saturated.

Residents in 55 homes in Wallington, Hampshire, were offered the chance to leave by police amid fears that the River Wallington could burst its banks, but only a handful chose to do so.

The Environment Agency has scores of flood alerts and dozens of flood warnings in place, while there is one severe flood warning in place in Wallington. The most severe alert, it is described as being a "danger to life" on the Agency's website.

South east Wales, the Midlands and the north east of England were also at risk as successive bands of rain sweep across the country. The weather is likely to remain unsettled for up to seven days.

Sky News Weather Producer Jo Robinson warned that flooding would "remain a big concern" over the days before Christmas. 

She said that while it was much drier across the far south of the UK on Thursday evening as the rain band pushed north, further local flooding into the night should be expected.

"Eastern Scotland looks to see the heaviest rain overnight, with a further 20 to 30mm (locally 40mm) there," she said.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has issued various flood alerts and flood warnings, while the Met Office told Sky News that around 20-30mm of rain is expected to fall on Thursday in eastern parts of Northern Ireland. Up to 50mm is expected there on Saturday and Sunday.

It is feared the latest bout of wet weather could leave more homes under water and cause further disruption on the road and rail networks.

Motorists were warned not to use flooded roads and an AA spokesman said it had attended 327 break downs due to vehicles being driven through or still stuck in floodwater.

East Dorset and the New Forest in Hampshire were worst affected along with the Midlands, he added.

River levels on the River Cober in Helston, Cornwall, are high after persistent rain on Wednesday, while the Dolphins River Park in Charmouth, west Dorset, was under threat from the River Char.

The River Wey in Weymouth, Dorset, was also rising, and the Somerset Levels face risk of flooding due to heavy rainfall of up to 20mm over Wednesday night on already saturated ground.

Flood defences have been put up in the riverside town of Bewdley in Worcestershire, on the banks of the Severn, and at Upton-upon-Severn existing flood barriers are being monitored as the river rose steadily.

Further defences are set to go up in Shrewsbury, Shropshire.

In Devon and Cornwall, which bore the brunt of much of the worst weather during widespread flooding last month, police reported only minor disruption across the two counties.

There was no repeat of the scenes of late November, when dozens of people had to be evacuated from their homes as floodwater surged down narrow streets and floodplains saturated, causing millions of pounds of damage.

Cornwall Council said more than 100 members of staff were involved in dealing with flood-related calls over Wednesday night and into Thursday morning.

The majority of them were as a result of surface water flooding.

A spokeswoman for Fareham Borough Council said the three people who had taken up the offer of being evacuated in Wallington included one vulnerable person.

The evacuation warning came after three cracks appeared in the flood defences around the swollen River Wallington.

Structural engineers from the council and the Environment Agency have inspected the flood wall that has the cracks in it, and Environment Agency operations manager David Robinson said that the main concern was the high tide meeting the rain water after more than 20mm fell in the area overnight.

High tide, which came at 4.30pm in the village, passed without further flooding. The next high tide will be at 5.13am on Friday.