November 23, 2009 / 5:09 PM / 9 years ago

Minister warns of new UK flood threat

LONDON (Reuters) - Heavy rain could bring more flooding to parts of northern England still struggling to cope with the damage caused by last week’s unprecedented storms, Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said on Monday.

In an emergency statement to parliament, Benn said people in Cumbria, which was lashed by the heaviest downpours on record, should be prepared for more flooding.

“Further heavy rain is forecast overnight and there may be some further flooding,” he said.

Three people have been killed and a fourth is missing after the unprecedented downpours, he added.

Policeman Bill Barker died when a bridge collapsed in the market town of Workington and Environment Agency contractor Michael Streeter was killed in an accident while working on flood defenses at Selsey Bill on the south coast.

Canoeist Chris Wheeler died after becoming trapped on the swollen River Dart in Devon, while a woman is missing feared dead after falling into the River Usk in Brecon, mid-Wales.

“Our thoughts are with all their families and colleagues,” Benn added. “It is utterly devastating and the House will wish to express its sympathy to all those affected.”

About 1,300 properties were flooded in Cumbria, more than 1,000 lost electricity and 12,000 lost their phone lines, he added. Six bridges have collapsed due to the force of the water.

MORE RAIN COMING

The Met Office said parts of Cumbria and the Scottish borders could see 50 mm to 74 mm of rain by Wednesday morning, with wind gusting at up to 65 mph. Up to 100 cm of rain could fall on the Cumbrian fells.

“There will be persistent heavy rainfall in Cumbria on Tuesday,” said Paul Davies, chief hydrometeorologist for the Met Office and the Environment Agency. “We are not expecting the same volumes of rainfall as last week and do not expect there to be the same widespread property flooding.

“We are concerned about the ongoing risk to infrastructure, particularly bridges, and the possible risk to life in the area as the river flows increase.”

Hundreds of people were allowed back to their shops and businesses for the first time earlier on Monday to count the cost of the damage caused by flooding in Cockermouth, one of the worst-affected Cumbrian towns.

After waiting for three days, the owners of 900 properties crossed a police cordon to see the devastation.

Shop windows were smashed, stock lay ruined on muddy floors and water marks on the walls showed how flood water from the River Cocker had reached shoulder-height.

Some shop-owners complained that it took too long for the authorities to allow them back to check the damage after the damage from Thursday night’s flooding.

While the Christmas tree in the main street was still standing, some businesses said they did not expect to reopen in time for the festive season.

Editing by Steve Addison

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