Heavy rain hit Cumbria in the UK on an unprecedented scale this weekend, with a month’s worth of precipitation inundating the region in just 24 hours. See pictures and videos.
More than 40 severe flood warnings remain in place and more rain is forecast in the UK after Storm Desmond lashed the North West, causing floods and danger to life and property.
The region has declared a major incident in the wake of the record rainfall, with tens of thousands being left without power, hundreds of homes flooded and more than 1,000 evacuated in Cumbria and the Scottish Borders.
As Prime Minister David Cameron convened COBRA for a briefing on the Cumbria floods crisis, the government has been criticised by MPs for lowering the priority of flood defence schemes in the region in recent years. Although flood defences were upgraded in 2010 to withstand a 100-year flooding event, which happened most recently in 2009, the record rainfall at the weekend breached river barriers, destroyed roads, collapsed a bridge and is expected to cause at least a week’s worth of disruption on some train lines.
The River Great near Keswick and the River Eden at Appleby in Cumbria have both overflowed, filling streets. Residents are being given bottled water as a water treatment works in Keswick was reportedly temporarily overwhelmed and one of the town’s two water storage reservoirs ceased functioning after the surrounding area was submerged. Burst water mains have also reportedly disrupted services in Borrowdale Valley, Langwathby and Lancaster.
Hundreds of families have slept in Red Cross Shelters set up in response to the flooding, and the army was mobilised along with local RNLI and other emergency service personnel to rescue trapped householders.
South of Penrith in Cumbria, the Coastguard rescued 150 people from a flooded static caravan park, and the village of Braithwaite was completely cut off when a flooded river collapsed the Coledale High Bridge.
Lancashire fire and rescue service said it dealt with more than 300 calls for help in Lancaster and surrounding areas, ranging from cars stuck in rising water, road collisions and fires.
Residents and emergency personnel, including the RNLI, have taken to social media to share photos of the flooding, some of which can be seen in the gallery at the bottom of this story.
The RNLI said it helped to rescue 200 people in Carlisle in Cumbria on Sunday, with the charity’s team of specially-trained flood rescue volunteers arriving in Carlisle at 8am after an overnight shift in the Kendal area, where, the BBC has reported, a body has been found in the River Kent, marking at least one death in the flooding.
RNLI volunteer Chris Missen, who travelled to Cumbria from Porthcawl, Wales, to help the rescue effort, said the conditions were ‘unprecedented.’
He said: ‘The RNLI currently has 30 people on the ground, with additional Flood Rescue Team members on standby to relieve us as we have been on the go for around 24 hours. We are working closely with the other emergency services to do what we can to help people, and fortunately the majority of the people we’ve evacuated have been uninjured but are understandably quite distressed. It’s heart-breaking to see what this has done to people’s homes, especially just before Christmas.
‘We’ve probably assisted 200 people since we arrived in Carlisle and there are at least another 200 who still need our help. The scale of this isn’t like anything I’ve seen before, it’s relentless. I’ve been involved in six other flood rescue operations with the RNLI and this is by far the worst. It’s unprecedented.’
Missen added that the RNLI Flood Rescue Team volunteers have evacuated several families with babies and small children, a number of pregnant women and several dogs, including a Great Dane. They have been operating in four boats mainly in the Warwick Road area of Carlisle, helping people trapped in their homes.
One of the team’s most difficult tasks was the rescue of six people and their two dogs from a remote bungalow in the Levens area. The people – including a pregnant woman and two children – had been stranded for 12 hours and were using flashlights to signal for help.
According to the RNLI’s Lifesaving Delivery unit, the flood water surrounding the property was fast flowing making it too dangerous to attempt a boat rescue. A local farmer volunteered to use his tractor to ferry five members of the RNLI Flood Rescue Team to the bungalow with a rescue sled. The occupants were evacuated two at a time and then transferred to a local pub to warm up.
Volunteers from Workington RNLI lifeboat station have also been using their inshore lifeboat in Cockermouth to help evacuate people, several of them in need of medical assistance, according to the group.
RNLI volunteers have travelled to Cumbria from as far as Wales and North East England. An additional team was expected to set off from Poole in Dorset at 4pm Sunday, with a further team on standby to travel to Cumbria today if required.
The UK’s weather forecasting Met Office has issued a red alert for severe weather in some parts of the country, warning that further loss of life could be possible as strong winds and heavy rainfall continue. Around 100mm of rain is expected Wednesday and Thursday across the flood-impacted region, with amounts up to 200 mm possible in mountainous areas. Winds gusting to 60mph are also predicted.
Local residents affected by or concerned about flooding can contact Floodline, open 24 hours a day, on 0345 988 1188. Government guidelines on dealing with flooding can be found here.
See the pictures below.