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The Jubilee River story - Cornwall - November 2010

Many homes evacuated as flash flood storm brings chaos across region

Flooded Mevagissey
Flooded Mevagissey

Flash floods forced more than 100 people from their homes as a deluge of rain swamped Cornwall with many people complaining they were given little or no warning of the impending chaos.

Weather experts at the Met Office have borne the brunt of the criticism that the region was not given enough notice of imminent floods, leaving many people unprepared for the rising floodwaters which reached up to 2m (6ft) deep in places.

Heavy rains and gale force winds brought misery to St Austell, Lostwithiel, St Blazey, Bodmin, Par, Mevagissey and Luxulyan, while the Met Office said a further 10mm (0.4in) of rain could have fallen by this morning.

Prime Minister David Cameron last night promised the flood-battered region would receive as much help as it needs to get back on its feet.

However, scores of families were last night preparing to spend the night at emergency shelters while people in many areas of the county were warned that several rivers were in danger of bursting their banks today, raising fears of yet further floods.

Picture by Mike Thomas

The Environment Agency last night put ten flood warnings on rivers in the South West including Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset.

The Exeter-based Met Office warned there was a low risk of further floods in some areas today but said the severe weather would make way for a mixture of sunshine and showers today and tomorrow.

Jeff Oliver, who runs the post office shop in St Blazey, said: "Where was our warning? Fair enough, the Environment Agency, Cornwall Council and the emergency services might have been briefed, but what about us?"

Julie Edwards, a 78-year-old widow from Lostwithiel, was forced to stack her furniture out of harm's way after awaking early yesterday to discover water flooding into her property.

She said: "I wish I had been warned about this. In the 24-and-a-half years I have been here I have never known floods as fierce as this."

More than a dozen secondary and primary schools in the area also had to be closed, while even major Cornish attractions such as the Eden Project, which was swamped and is expected to remain closed for several days, were left unprepared. A Eden Project spokesman said staff had not been told by the authorities to expect such unprecedented levels of rainfall.

In a statement, the Met Office said its forecasting centre, which it shares jointly with the Environment Agency, issued an extreme rainfall alert on Tuesday afternoon "to give emergency responders and local authorities advance warning of the heavy rain overnight", before posting a severe weather warning on the Met Office website just after 10pm.

The statement added: "Regarding our (severe weather) warning service, the specification is that warnings are issued two-to-six hours ahead of the event. In this case the warning was issued more than six hours ahead, reinforcing the local and national weather forecasts."

The flooding, caused by a downpour just before sunrise on Wednesday which saw more than 20mm fall in 60 minutes, evoked memories of the Boscastle disaster in August 2004 when the North Cornwall village was ravaged by wild torrents following more than 75mm of rainfall.

Ted Simpson, Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service's incident commander that day, was last night attempting to prevent further devastation in Cornwall.

The assistant chief officer said: "We are dealing with large-scale flooding and a huge number of calls.

"Our resources are stretched, but they are not at breaking point. This is the worst we've seen since Boscastle but we are coping."

The first alarms were raised at 5am, after residents in St Austell and the surrounding communities of Par, Mevagissey, Lostwithiel and St Blazey began reporting flooding to their properties.

By 6am, many homes were under several inches of water. Helicopters were initially drafted in from RNAS Culdrose and RMB Chivenor before being stood down as conditions eased, while fire units from as far away as Exeter were being called to help.

Falmouth Coastguard also rushed to the harbour at Portloe after a car was washed into the harbour.

By noon, more than 500 homes had been affected and police were organising mass evacuations from some of the worst-hit areas.

In Mevagissey and Lostwithiel, more than 150 people were initially told to evacuate, before some were allowed to return home.

However, dozens were expected to spend last night at Polkyth Leisure Centre, while others took refuge with neighbours and friends.

The main train line into the region was also blocked after torrential rain caused a landslide on the tracks at Lostwithiel, while motorists were forced to abandon their cars at the roadside as floodwater made driving dangerous.

Large sections of the A30 and A38 were closed temporarily while debris was cleared.

Mid-Cornwall and the St Austell areas were the worst affected by the downpours, while emergency services were also called to the River Neet, which burst its banks near Bude in North Cornwall.

There were also fears from the Environment Agency that tap water may become undrinkable as filthy flood water contaminates supplies.

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