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Driver drowns in floods as submerged car is swept along UK river

A MAN drowned after his car was swept away by fast-flowing water as heavy rain caused flooding across Britain.

A 60-year-old woman who was a passenger in the stricken vehicle managed to open the car door and swam to safety as it was swept 200 yards downstream by the fast-flowing current.

The man had been attempting to cross a ford at Headley, near Newbury, Hants, yesterday, when his vehicle was swamped, flipping upside down and sinking.

He was pronounced dead from drowning in the River Enborne, described as a “normally placid stream” which had been “transformed into a raging torrent by the monsoon-like rain”.

The dangerous water is the result of heavy downpours throughout the weekend, with winds up to 70mps in south-west England and Wales bringing down trees and leaving homes without power.

The prestigious Badminton Horse Trials have been cancelled due to grounds being left “totally waterlogged and partially flooded” by heavy rain.

Organisers said a forecast of more rain meant there was "no chance" of the grounds drying out in time, leaving riders and spectators disappointed.

Forecasters have said April has been the wettest on record, with showers set to continue for at least the next week.

The Environment Agency has already set up an incident room in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, amid fears it will be overcome by floods again just five years after high waters left it devastated.

The Environment Agency have set up an incident room there, along with two others in the Midlands and another in the Wessex area.

A spokeswoman said there were a further two in the Midlands and another in the Wessex area, and added: "Environment Agency teams are out on the ground continuing a close watch on river levels as well as checking defences and clearing any potential blockages to reduce the risk of flooding."

Nearly 40 flood warnings are already in place, with a further 141 alerts across England and Wales, and a fresh band of rain is expected overnight.

More than an inch of rain is forecast to fall on ground that is already saturated, pushing up rivers already swollen by floods.

The whole of the South West, South and South East will be on alert, as well as South Wales the Midlands, London and the Home Counties.

"The public should be aware that, following recent heavy rainfall, further localised flooding is possible, as well as difficult driving conditions," said the Met Office.

So far 20 properties have been flooded and rail services have been disrupted in the west of England.

Police are still continuing to search for eight-year-old Ian Bell, who is believed to have fallen into the rain-swollen River Wear at Sunnybrow, near Willington, County Durham.

The schoolboy disappeared on Friday evening after playing with his friends, and is reported to have been last seen clinging on to a tree branch in the water.

In Dorset, an elderly couple were hospitalised with hypothermia after their car fell 12ft from a bridge in poor weather conditions.

Maureen and Douglas Gardner spent 30 minutes trapped in their half-submerged car in the River Frome in West Stafford, as a passerby jumped in to smash their car window fearing they would drown.

Mrs Gardner held her 78-year old husband’s head above water until the emergency services arrived and they were taken to Dorchester County Hospital for treatment.

Last week, 42mm (1.7in) of rain fell in the South East of England and 55mm (2.2in) in the South West. England and Wales have now had 166 per cent of the average rainfall for April.

However the drought remains in place and hosepipe bans in force.