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Counting the cost of Westcountry's worst floods for decades

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: November 27, 2012

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Communities in the South West have been coming to terms with some of the worst storms and flooding in recent memory.

Clean-up operations have begun in earnest after the region bore the brunt of terrible weather conditions sweeping across the UK.

See a gallery of storm and flooding pictures from Cornwall.

Some 450 homes were flooded as widespread disruption continued in Devon and Cornwall after almost a week of relentless rain.

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Devon and Somerset fire and rescue service dealt with 875 flooding incidents out of a total of almost 1,400 incidents since the middle of last week.

The Cornwall fire and rescue service received more than 520 emergency calls over the two days, as around 114 properties were flooded across the county.

Crews carried out 85 rescues from flooding over that period, from properties and vehicles, involving 218 people.

Yesterday the Environment Agency still had 39 flood warnings and 60 flood alerts in place across the South West as rivers reached record high levels.

Meanwhile Devon County Council has called on the Government for urgent help to repair Devon’s roads hit by more floods.

Leaders in the county say they need urgent Government financial support to help communities recover and to keep the county’s economy moving and growing.

Devon County Council leader, John Hart met with Environment Secretary Owen Paterson as he toured the county yesterday.

Mr Paterson said: “My sympathy is with those suffering from floods – the young, elderly and families. The situation is a travesty for those forced to leave their homes.

“Although 450 homes were evacuated in Devon and Cornwall, our flood defences saved thousands more and prevented numerous other difficulties.”

Council leader Mr Hart said: “Obviously there is a real human cost from this weekend’s appalling weather and my heart goes out to the families I’ve met today whose homes have been ruined.

“However there is a very serious economic cost to these events which affects all of us in Devon. I want the Government to recognise that we need to build stronger resilience into our whole transport network as we are likely to face more and more extreme weather conditions in the future.”

Many experts said conditions were the worst they had ever seen in their lifetime.

Rail passengers and motorists endured further travel delays yesterday with train services depleted and more roads closed by flooding.

Train services in the South West were among the worst hit in the country, where signal failures added to commuters’ difficulties.

In Devon a landslip at Honiton and flooding at Axminster meant buses had to replace trains between Exeter St David’s and Yeovil Junction. Flooding led to no train services being able to run between Tiverton Parkway and Exeter St David’s.

Disruptions continued for motorists as several major roads in the region remained closed, including the A377 between Exeter and Crediton, and the A396 at Cove, near Tiverton.

In Cornwall the A39 – the main road between Truro and Falmouth – was closed at Perranarworthal after the river has burst its banks. Highways engineers are now concerned that sub-zero temperatures forecast later in the week will further compound damage to the network.

The village of Kennford near Exeter was one of the worst affected places in Devon.

Torrents of water poured down the main village street on Saturday night, flooding dozens of homes and forcing numerous families to evacuate.

Residents waded through waist-deep water in the village during the peak period at around 11pm. Mr Paterson visited the village to see the extent of the problems and speak with those hit hardest.

Liz Pezzani, who has lived in the village for more than 30 years, described the devastation to her cottage.

“The water came into the living room and just keep going up and up and up. It put the fire out and logs were floating across the room. I have never seen anything like it.”

Dean Storer, who lives with his wife and one-year-old son in the village, said: “We have lost everything, including my wedding ring, our marriage certificate and birth certificates.”

Howard Milton, chairman of Kennford parish council, spoke of the misery as his shop was flooded. He said: “When I came back to the village on Saturday night it was like a war zone. The residents were very alarmed and sirens were going off everywhere.

“But we’re a resilient community and there’s a real spirit among the people.”

Martin Weiler, Devon and Cornwall area manager for the Environment Agency, said: “The flooding has been devastating for the young, elderly and families here. My heart goes out to all those affected. This is as bad as it gets.” Councillor Kevin Lake, Teignbridge District Council’s executive spokesperson for environmental services, said: “For the young families, it’s devastating in the run-up to Christmas. But everyone has worked hard to minimise the damage and a recovery programme is in place.”

Residents in Helston reported floodwater of up to 2ft (61cm) surging through the town at the weekend. Four families were evacuated as the Environment Agency placed a severe weather warning on the area around the River Cober, indicating a real risk to life.

Residents in East Devon believe the new town of Cranbrook has made the flooding worse.

Olivia van Grudgings, who lives in nearby Rockbeare where at least two homes were evacuated, said:

“Our feeling is the floods are worse thanks to the development of Cranbrook. It is built on the flood plain and it seems to me that the knock-on effect for the surrounding villages of Rockbeare and Whimple is that the floods are more severe than they would have been because the floodplain is being concreted over.”

Hundreds of thousands of sandbags were distributed to vulnerable properties across the region in an effort to minimise the damage.

Cllr John Williams, leader of the council at Taunton, said: “This was one of the worst floods in living memory in Somerset and the West Country with torrential rain falling between Wednesday and Sunday.”

Ambulance crews from across the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust received 6,455 calls – 552 more than the Trust would normally expect to receive at this time of year.

Ken Wenman, SWASFT Chief Executive, said: “The past week has been extremely challenging for ambulance personnel, who have battled against the elements to deliver the right care in the right place at the right time.”

Chief Fire officer Howell said: “Our Fire Control staff and operational crews have worked extremely hard over the last five days and are a credit to the Service.”

Drier weather is forecast for the rest of the week., with temperatures set to fall to single figures and south eastern winds.

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  • Yourvoice  |  November 28 2012, 5:59PM

    "Ambulance crews from across the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust received 6,455 calls – 552 more than the Trust would normally expect to receive at this time of year." Good work from our colleagues in South Western Ambulance who once again made personal sacrifice to ensure the public received the help they need. UNISON Great Western Ambulance Branch