Devon and Cornwall battered by torrential rain and 70mph winds - and there's more on the way
The Westcountry remained on high alert last night as torrential rain and 70mph winds battered the region for a second day.
Severe gale force winds ripped metal sheeting off roofs, downed trees and power lines, and blew over a 40ft temporary building, while heavy rain brought down a bridge, flooded roads and threatened properties. Forecasters predicted some respite today with drier and brighter weather but issued "yellow" warnings for further heavy rain on Saturday and Sunday.
Met Office deputy chief forecaster Paul Gundersen said: "The current unsettled spell of weather is set to continue with further spells of heavy rain expected across the country over the next few days.
"There has been some torrential rain and squally winds as a cold front moved across the UK, but another deep depression developing off Iberia will head towards us for the weekend. This is expected to bring more heavy rain and strong to gale force winds to many parts of the country.
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"We urge everyone to keep up to date with forecasts and warnings and be prepared for what the weather will bring."
With up to an inch of rain predicted to fall in some areas in just an hour, the Environment Agency in the South West yesterday issued 36 flood warnings – including on the River Clyst – across the region.
The agency also put in place 57 flood alerts including on the rivers Looe, Seaton, Fowey, Fal and lower Tamar in Cornwall. Concerns were also raised for the Taw, Torridge and lower Exe in Devon.
"We strongly urge people to sign up to flood warnings on the Environment Agency website, keep a close eye on local weather forecasts and be prepared for flooding. We also ask that people stay safe, by staying away swollen rivers and not attempting to drive through floodwater," said Nick Moore, from the Environment Agency.
"Environment Agency teams have been mobilised across the country to check on flood defences, clear river blockages and monitor river levels."
Tavistock in Devon saw some minor flooding on Dolvin Road where children at St Rumon's Infant School were put on flood alert.
After a morning of severe gales – during which 70mph gusts were recorded on the Isles of Scilly and at Berry Head on the South Devon coast – torrential rain then swept across the region in the afternoon.
Emergency services and highways crew responded to hundreds of calls, mainly to flooded roads, fallen trees but also to help secure damaged buildings. The most serious accident happened on the A3079 at Beaworthy, near Okehampton, shortly after 4pm in which one man died. The storm caused misery for travellers, with rail services being suspended between Exeter and Taunton because of flood damage to the track.
It was no better on the roads, with motorists facing hazardous journeys with vast areas of standing water, downed trees and buffeting winds.
Near Cullompton, a 30ft bridge over the River Culme collapsed late on Wednesday night under the force of water, closing the road between Westcott and Bradninch.
John Bowen, landlord of the nearby Merry Harriers pub, said: "It must have been a phenomenal weather event to take out a bridge like that.
"Talking to the locals, they've said the last time they saw something similar was back in 1961."
Devon County Council said it has closed the road and put up security fencing at either end of the grade II listed bridge. Engineers are due to inspect what remains of the structure when flood waters subside.
Plymouth city centre was also in chaos at rush hour as flood waters inundated the newly revamped Gdynia Way and high winds forced the closure of one lane of the Tamar Bridge.
The bridge was also closed to high-sided vehicles, caravans and motorcycles until around 6pm. Just one ferry was running from Torpoint to Devonport with queues of more than an hour.
The chain on one of the ferries also snapped, leaving the ferry stranded at Devonport.
Ferry manager David List said: "It is very unusual. I have been here 15 years and it is the first time we have ever had a severed chain like that. We believe it could be an existing defect in the chain which was identified by the extra forces involved today."
Traffic on the A386 near Beam Quarry, at Torrington, was disrupted after part of a wall collapsed onto the road.
In Exeter, a 30ft section of a 20ft-high wall collapsed onto a bus shelter in Hele Road in St David's Hill at about 8pm. Emergency services closed the road while firefighters carried out thermal imaging checks to ensure no-one was trapped under the rubble.
The road between Bovey Tracey and Manaton was blocked after a 40ft temporary building was blown off its base. In Hayle, a large trampoline was whipped up by the winds and left hanging on a telegraph pole.
In Plymouth, a shopper needed medical treatment after a sign fell from Drake Circus shopping centre and struck them on the ankle.
Almost 500 homes the Bickleigh area of East Devon were temporarily left without power as were some 120 properties in the Torpoint area of South East Cornwall. People across the region are being urged to check weather updates today before they travel.