Thursday 8 December 2016

Storm Desmond: Northern England feels brunt as one month's rain drops in a single night

Threats of more flooding with a week of heavy rain still to come

Francesca Gosling and Pat Hurst

Published 07/12/2015 | 09:25

A rescue worker carries a dog in Carlisle, after heavy rain from Storm Desmond tore through Britain, bringing strong winds and heavy rain which caused Cumbria to declare a major incident. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday December 6, 2015
A rescue worker carries a dog in Carlisle, after heavy rain from Storm Desmond tore through Britain, bringing strong winds and heavy rain which caused Cumbria to declare a major incident. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday December 6, 2015
Rescue workers help residents to safety in Carlisle, after heavy rain from Storm Desmond tore through Britain, bringing strong winds and heavy rain which caused Cumbria to declare a major incident.

More heavy rain is expected to hit parts of northern England and Scotland this week as work continues to repair flood damage caused by record rainfall levels in the area.

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The Government has faced criticism after multi-million pound defences built following catastrophic floods in 2005 failed to keep the deluge out from people's homes in Cumbria, the county worst affected by Storm Desmond.

Rescue workers help residents to safety in Carlisle, after heavy rain from Storm Desmond tore through Britain, bringing strong winds and heavy rain which caused Cumbria to declare a major incident.
Rescue workers help residents to safety in Carlisle, after heavy rain from Storm Desmond tore through Britain, bringing strong winds and heavy rain which caused Cumbria to declare a major incident.

In Carlisle, the Army was sent to help support emergency services as they spent a second day evacuating people from their homes in streets where cars were almost entirely submerged.

But while the rain and heavy winds, which prompted the county to declare a major incident, subsided on Sunday, the Met Office issued yellow weather warnings for the rest of the week and forecast "persistent rain".

Following an emergency government meeting on Sunday, Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss said Cumbria rain gauge figures showed a record amount had fallen in the 24 hours between Friday and Saturday evenings.

It measured 341mm in Honister, which is more than a month's worth of rainfall in just one day and more than the UK has experienced in such a short amount of time.

Ms Truss said more than 2,000 homes and businesses in the county had been flooded and promised further investments would be made to protect the area in the future.

She said: "We are delivering on our manifesto commitment to build 1,400 new flood defence schemes that will better protect 300,000 more homes. That's an extra £2.3 billion of capital investment to help our most at-risk communities."

A tweet from David Cameron added: "The thoughts of the country are with the people in Cumbria and the NW hit by flooding. The Govt is doing everything it can to help them."

The Prime Minister is due to chair an emergency Cobra meeting to discuss the floods this morning.

Almost 60,000 homes in the county were left without power throughout Sunday as the floods damaged sub-stations and caused electrical faults. Electricity North West said that it had restored power to 24,000 homes by the evening.

Water supplies in a number of main towns were also affected by flood water and at least 20 schools are expected to remain closed today.

The disruption has led to the cancellation of appointments and routine services across NHS hospitals and services today. The Cumbria Partnership Foundation Partnership has said it will be running only essential services and more information is available via the website.

In London, the heavy winds caused a fatality when a 90-year-old man was believed to have been blown into the side of a moving bus by a gust of wind, near Finchley Central Tube station.

Cumbria Police also launched a search following reports of an elderly man falling into a swollen River Kent in Kendal.

An appeal by Cumbria Community Foundation to raise £1 million to support vulnerable individuals and families who have been badly affected by the floods is under way and has already raised well over £100,000.

It aims to distribute grants to those most in need to help cover costs of cleaning up, emergency repairs, clothing, food and drink, heating and heating equipment, child care equipment and basic furniture.

Electricity North West said it was continuing to work to restore power to customers.

It said in a statement: "Using generators from across the UK, engineers have restored power to 11,000 homes in Lancaster and aim to restore another 4,000 later this morning.

"Engineers are working round the clock in shifts to repair damage caused to the area's main substation which flooded on Saturday night. The remaining 40,000 properties should be restored by re-energising the substation by Monday evening."

The statement said that 2,685 properties in Cumbria remained without power because of 11 separate faults caused by flooding, with flood water preventing engineers from getting to the sites to carry out repairs.

Electricity North West incident manager Steve Cox said: "We've had engineers on boats working with the emergency services to try and access faults in Cumbria, and we've seen sterling efforts from teams in Lancaster to repair the damaged substation, while others connect generators to speed up restoration to customers.

"I'd like to thank customers for their understanding of the mammoth task we're undertaking to restore supplies. We've also drafted in extra support for our contact centre and are working hard to provide regular updates on social media to keep everyone updated."

Speaking from Carlisle, Superintendent Mark Pannone, of Cumbria Constabulary, said: "A lot of the county are trying to get back to normality but we still have the ongoing incident in Carlisle where we have about 2,500 properties in Carlisle flooded.

"People overnight have been staying in their houses or in reception centres and those that have been in their houses still need to be evacuated by boat this morning.

"The other issue we have got is that the road network is complicated throughout the county, inasmuch as Kendal will be in gridlock today because the bridges will have to be inspected for structural damage."

He added that the rail network in Cumbria remained "basically at a standstill".

Mr Pannone praised the team effort of Cumbrians and emergency services and partner agencies.

He said: "The emergency services and others have worked superbly over the weekend. When the major incident was declared at the weekend that meant we were able to access national assets including the military, and everyone worked tirelessly together to ensure that people remained safe and try to support people in having as little disruption as possible.

"People have really shown their best side throughout the county this weekend in helping each other as well as working with emergency services and other agencies. It has been a fantastic team effort."

In comparison to previous floods in 2005 in Carlisle and in 2009 largely in West Cumbria, he said: "These floods have combined both, and worst. It has been a county-wide incident and flooding has been on an unprecedented scale, it has never been seen before."

Cumbria County Council leader Stewart Young told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "There does need to be an investigation into the flood defences.

"I will be talking to our local MPs later today and if the Environment Agency needs to revisit them then that's what's going to have to happen because we can't continue to have events like this in Cumbria, we just won't be able to cope."

Environment Agency chief executive Sir James Bevan defended spending on flood defences and said it was impossible to guarantee protection against such "unprecedented" conditions.

Existing defences had prevented thousands of homes being inundated and given those who were affected more time to prepare, he told Today.

"Nature is nature. From time to time nature will throw things at us that overwhelm the system and I think that's what happened here," he said of the record-breaking deluge.

"You can never completely protect all communities. What you can do is make the best judgments about the most appropriate ways to protect the maximum number of people in a given place."

There would be lessons to learn from the latest floods though, he conceded.

"Thousands of households were protected during the rainfall by our defences and, in those areas where the water did come over the tops of the defences, firstly the fact that the defences were there reduced the overall impact and extent of the flood, and secondly it gave people more time to prepare.

"So those defences did play a very important role. That doesn't mean that we don't need to review what happened. We will and we need to learn the lessons for the future."

The Chancellor had protected a £2.3 billion investment in defences over five to six years, he noted.

Responding to claims - including from Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, whose constituency was among those badly affected - that some schemes which were promised after previous floods had been shelved, Sir James said those dealing with a "particularly urgent need" were prioritised.

And he dismissed any suggestion that the Agency acted more swiftly to deal with floods in the South of England.

"My team is completely committed to providing the maximum protection we can to communities up and down the country," he said.

"It has been fantastic for me in my first week as chief executive to see the commitment of the team and wherever there is a problem, wherever communities are threatened by flooding, they will be there and they will do everything they can to help."

Mark Williamson, operations director at Electricity North West, said they were still working to restore power to 5,000 homes in Lancaster and another 2,657 in Cumbria.

But he warned it could take days to get electricity back to households and vital infrastructure such as hospitals and schools - with Cumbria Infirmary still having to use a generator.

"It depends on us getting access to our assets, our sub-stations, to assess the damage. It could take up to 48 hours after access," he said.

"We will work around the clock to restore power.

"I think, clearly, part of the review of this event will look at the flood defences and we'll look at defences on our side too."

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