Flooding hampers Christmas getaway

Hundreds of thousands of Christmas commuters face further misery as their chances of getting home for the festive holiday are hampered by flooding.

Rail routes across Britain will come under increasing pressure as those unable to travel on Saturday attempt to reschedule their journeys and add to already crowded services.

Dozens of routes have been affected by heavy rain, with flooding so bad in south-west England that First Great Western is advising passengers planning non-essential journeys not to use trains or replacement buses in the area at all, because of flooding and poor road conditions.

The line between Exeter St Davids and Tiverton Parkway will be closed at least until Friday. Engineers have built a dam across the line to try to divert water back into the river Exe and prevent ballast from being washed away from under the track.

Dozens of communities have been affected by floods, with Lostwithiel in Cornwall and the area around Barnstaple in north Devon among the worst hit, along with parts of south Wales.

People hit by flooding face a bleak Christmas with a week of further rain threatening more holiday misery. Large parts of the UK, mainly southern England and Wales, will experience unsettled weather throughout the festive period, according to Meteogroup, the weather division of the Press Association.

The Environment Agency still had one severe flood warning – meaning there is “danger to life” – in place on Sunday morning, for the river Cober at Helston, in west Cornwall, after heavy rainfall overnight.

There were 182 flood warnings, urging people to take immediate action, with the most in the south-west and the Midlands.

In Umberleigh, near Barnstaple in Devon, a woman was rescued by a lifeboat after she was swept away from her car in the early hours of Sunday. A Devon and Cornwall police helicopter found the woman clinging to branches of a tree on the banks of the swollen river Taw.

She had been in a car with her husband and son when they were trapped by floodwater. Her husband and son were rescued by passersby. The woman tried to clamber to safety on the top of the car but was swept away. She managed to grab hold of a branch and clung on while the police helicopter hovered overhead.

Robin Goodlad, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s (RNLI) incident commander, said the rescue had been a “heroic” effort. Chris Missen and Paul Eastman, from Porthcawl in Wales, and Martin Blaker-Rowe, an RNLI College trainer, were on board the lifeboat that saved the woman from the water.

“These three volunteers were working in complete darkness, in an environment they had never been in before and ideally this should have been a two-boat operation,” Goodlad said. “They had a pinpoint light of the police helicopter to locate the woman. They got the woman into the boat. She had been in the water for 50 minutes and the guys are gobsmacked that she is alive and if they had not picked her up in that boat she would have been floating away downstream.

“They were fully aware of the risks. This was a high-risk operation with a high benefit and they decided to get on with it. This was a very heroic rescue, there are no two ways about it.”

The RNLI said its flood rescue teams rescued four people from flooded homes in Barnstaple and 12 people, two dogs and six cats in Lostwithiel. They also helped treat a woman involved in a car accident near Yeovil in Somerset.

Mid- and west Wales fire and rescue said it was called to more than 80 flooding incidents on Saturday, including six to rescue people from cars and three at landslides.

They reportedly included a woman swept away in her car in Llancarfan, in the Vale of Glamorgan. The woman was driving through the village when her black Mini ended up in the swollen waterway and began floating backwards with her trapped inside, according to the BBC. Two men smashed the car window using a ladder and pulled her to safety just moments before the car was washed under the bridge and filled with water.

Several train operators struggled to provide replacement buses due to flooded roads and a lack of available vehicles. Network Rail (NR) said engineers worked overnight to monitor flooding and to try to keep the railway open. It said much of the network was still running, albeit in some cases with amended timetables. Passengers were urged to check with their operators before they travel.

Patrick McLoughlin, the transport secretary, said: “Exceptional weather conditions are having a serious impact on the transport network at what is already a difficult time of year. The Highways Agency and Network Rail have emergency staff working round the clock to keep motorways and rail tracks open where it is safe to do so while train operators are working hard to keep services running.

“We urge people travelling through the most affected areas to plan ahead and check the latest travel information. We will continue to ensure everything possible is being done to help people get to where they need to be for Christmas.”

Railway engineers along with fire and rescue crews have been working on the railway line at Cowley Bridge, near Exeter, where Network Rail have placed plastic dams on the line to try to stem the flow of water. It is the first time the blue and orange water-filled dams have been used in this country.

Flooding on the tracks has closed the lines over Christmas but the full extent of the damage will not be known until the waters recede. A spokesman for Network Rail said: “We’ve got three dams in place now which are doing the job of directing the water back to whence it came. We were told on Friday night by the Environment Agency that they expected flooding in that area, which is on the river Exe flood plain, and as expected yesterday afternoon the flooding arrived.

“We accepted that part of the railway line was likely to flood and bearing that in mind wanted to try to direct the water away from as much of the railway as we could, so put in two temporary dams, which are water-filled. We are now in the process of putting a third in place. We are trying to keep the water away from further down the line. When the water has receded we will walk the line and see what we need to do to reopen it.

“It is more than likely that the water will have washed away a lot of the ballast – the crushed granite that the railway line sits on – that’s what the usual damage is and from the pictures it is fast-flowing water, so it will wash the ballast away, but more than that we don’t know yet.”

Passengers on First Great Western trains with tickets from Saturday will be able to use them on Sunday or Monday. East Midlands Trains has suspended services between Derby and Nottingham, and there were delays of almost an hour between Derby and Loughborough. Trains between Cardiff and Bridgend were suspended, and those between Bristol Parkway and Cardiff were delayed by up to an hour.

Landslips caused disruption to rail services between Liverpool and Manchester and the route from Aberdeen to Montrose, and signalling problems at Preston Park near Brighton caused by a fire on Friday continued to affect services on Sunday, including the Brighton-to-London route via Gatwick airport.

Article source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/dec/23/travel-chaos-flooding-christmas-getaway