Rain brings more flood warnings

Britain remains at risk of more flooding as rain continues to plague the south of the country and tidal surges batter the coast.

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A 4x4 drives down a flooded road next to the River Thames in Shepperton, Surrey

Britain remains at risk of more flooding as rain continues to plague the south of the country and tidal surges batter the coast.

The huge waves prompted the Environment Agency to sound its flood siren in Dorset last night - warning of extreme danger to people and property

The alarm was raised after the sea breached Chiswell Beach in Portland around 10pm and spray crashed over flood defences, the Weymouth and Portland Coastguard said.

Residents, who had been on high alert for hours, were told by Dorset Police to move to an upstairs room facing away from the sea and it is believed some homes were evacuated.

The coastguard reported "horrendous" sea conditions and road closures.

Three severe flood warnings - the highest level of warning - have been issued by the Environment Agency covering Chiswell, nearby Preston Beach and the Lower Stour in Dorset.

More than 120 flood warnings urging people to be prepared for flooding remain in place across the country, including in Dorset, Oxfordshire, south Wiltshire, Hampshire and along the river Thames, while more than 200 low-level alerts have been issued.

The Met Office said that heavy showers, some of them combined with hail and thunder, will continue to affect parts of southern and south-eastern England today and tomorrow.

The rain is falling on already saturated ground after a succession of storms putting added pressure on already swollen rivers, while coastal areas also battle high tides and strong winds.

Many areas have faced disruption from road closures and cancelled or delayed train services as people returned to work after the Christmas holidays.

Seven people have died and more than 1,700 homes and businesses have been flooded in England since the beginning of the Christmas period, with 300 properties flooded since the New Year. Some 140 properties have been flooded in Wales.

High winds over Christmas also left 250,000 homes without power, with some families waiting days for the electricity to be restored.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said the Government was working closely with local councils, the insurance industry and others, to ensure that people could quickly get the help they need.

Some areas of the country were now focused on recovery after storms and flooding over the Christmas and New Year period, while others remained at significant risk of floods, he told the Commons.

Mr Paterson admitted that a few energy network companies could have been quicker at restoring power to thousands of homes affected by the storms and floods over Christmas.

Energy Secretary Ed Davey would be meeting the regulator Ofgem and the Distribution Network Operators to see how improvements could be made in the future, Mr Paterson said.

He also said the response from some agencies in helping people whose homes had been affected by the severe weather had been "patchy" and was "well worth investigating", though he praised the response of most of those involved in dealing with the storms.

He told MPs: "Flood management is a real priority for this Government. It has a vital role to play in protecting people and property from the damage caused by flooding and in delivering economic growth."

But environmentalists challenged the Government's claim that it was spending more than ever on flood defences.

Friends of the Earth said analysis of Defra figures showed that some £2.32 billion was being spent over the current spending review period, slightly lower than the £2.36 billion spent in the period 2007-2011.

And with the cost of inflation, the figure was a drop in real terms, the environmental group claimed.

Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Guy Shrubsole said: "Worse still, the coalition's chronic under-investment in flood defences is completely failing to keep pace with climate change, which is increasing flood risk - as the Government's climate envoy Sir David King recently pointed out.

"Protecting British households from the destructive impacts of climate change is essential - the Prime Minister must intervene to ensure flood defence spending rises to meet the challenge."

Mr Paterson's statement on the floods over the holiday period came as the misery continued for some communities.

Flooding in the Somerset Levels has left villages cut off, roads and buildings have been damaged, and waves of up to 27ft have been recorded at Land's End, the most southern tip of the UK.

In Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, seafront properties along the promenade were again evacuated to a rest centre at a local school.

Meanwhile, searches are continuing in south Devon for missing 18-year-old university student Harry Martin, who was last seen leaving his home to take photographs of the weather - with more than 100 people volunteering to look for him.

Devon and Cornwall Police said a 20-mile stretch of coastline - 10 miles either side of the 18-year-old's home at Newton Ferrers - has been extensively searched as well as inland areas with the help of a range of groups and emergency services.

Officials around the country have pleaded with people to keep away as dozens put their lives at risk by going to coastal areas to watch as the storm brought waves of up to 40ft high crashing on to land.

Meanwhile, tributes have been paid to the man who died after being washed out to sea in Cornwall on New Year's Day.

Harry Swordy, 27, from Guildford, Surrey, had gone for a paddle with friends at Loe Bar beach after celebrating the new year but was "taken out of knee-deep water by a huge wave".

Friends Tom and Lou Luddington wrote a blog post in tribute to Mr Swordy.

They said: "He was with his sister and friends, and celebrating the beginning of a new year at the beach.

"Some of the others were also taken by the wave, but thankfully managed to get ashore.

"Harry was such an amazing character, so full of life, warmth and plans for the future. He will be so missed.

"Harry, amongst other talents, was a professional story-teller. His stories were full of beauty, wonder and they were clever and moving."

Friends have also begun a #StormHarry appeal on Twitter for the UK's ongoing bad weather to be named after him.

"We are campaigning that the storm, named by the US media as Hercules, be re-named Storm Harry in his memory," Mr and Mrs Luddington said.

"It feels right that a legend begin about wonderful Harry that he danced up the biggest storm ever, barefoot in the sea."

People have been warned to keep away from cliffs in Hastings, East Sussex, after excessive rainfall, strong winds and high tides lead to a massive rock fall.

The cliff face at Rock a Nore, which forms part of the Hastings Country Park and Nature Reserve, is susceptible to landslides but the fall on January 3 means the area is dangerous in the current weather conditions, Hastings Borough Council said.

Councillor Emily Westley said: "We already advise the public not to enter the area with warning and information signs and a fixed barrier to restrict access, but must reiterate the current dangers.

"Visual inspections are carried out daily of cliffs as part of the beach inspector's checks and this includes ensuring all signage and barriers are in place. In addition, we also visually inspect and photograph this area of cliff as part of our quarterly inspection of coast defence assets."

Yesterday, the Environment Secretary said 1,700 properties have been flooded in England, with Kent, Sussex, Surrey, Devon, Cornwall and Dorset particularly affected.

In Wales, 140 properties were flooded and there has also been flooding in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

More than 220,000 properties were protected over the Christmas period and another 800,000 were protected during the coastal flooding in early December, Mr Paterson told the Commons.

The Met Office has issued a yellow warning - the lowest of its three levels - for "heavy showers, some of them combined with hail and thunder" until tomorrow morning across the South East, South West and East of England. Forecasters are predicting rainfall of between 0.6in (15mm) and 1in (25mm) but are warning of as much as 1.6in (40mm) in some areas.

Three severe flood warnings in Dorset remain in force today - for Preston Beach in Weymouth, Chiswell on Portland and the Lower Stour at Iford Bridge Home Park in Ilford, Bournemouth.

There are also 106 flood warnings and 202 flood alerts in place, the Environment Agency said.

Dorset Police urged residents in Chiswell to be prepared for flooding and to listen out for the warning siren.

"The siren will be sounded should the sea breach Chiswell beach - as it did last night," a force spokeswoman said.

Portland Beach Road from Weymouth to Portland remains open but will close should the conditions make it unsafe and Preston Beach Road in Weymouth remains closed.

"This is a multi-agency operation and follows monitoring of sea levels, tides and waves over the last 24-hour period, the weather forecast indicating further severe weather together with predicted high tides."

At Palmer's Brewery in nearby Bridport, the Old Brewery building was evacuated when scaffolding was struck by lightning for the second time in 12 months.

"There was a huge bang and all our alarms went off," a brewery spokesman said.

"We evacuated the building and everyone trooped outside into the pouring rain. Fortunately there was no damage and we were able to return swiftly to brewing today's batch of Copper Ale. All back to usual now and the sun has come out."

Other parts of the UK continued to suffer from gale-force winds, heavy rain overnight and strong waves.

The Thames Barrier in London will close for the 11th successive tide today. According to the EA it has only closed operationally 135 times since being built in the 1980s.

In Cornwall, waves at Portreath washed away a 100-year-old stone hut on the breakwater and at Porthcothan Bay, between Newquay and Padstow, a huge rock has completely collapsed under the sheer force of huge waves.

In Wales, the coast was once again battered by strong winds and high tides but forecasters say the worst of the storms is over for now.

All buildings along Aberystwyth promenade were evacuated last night as it was hit by an "exceptional" wave swell.

About 150 students in seafront flats were moved out to temporary accommodation at Aberystwyth University and will not return until safety checks are completed.

But strong winds and rain should ease as the weather improves this week.

Natural Resources Wales said one flood warning for the lower Dee Valley and eight flood alerts remain in place.

Across the rail network, there was continuing disruption to services due to the weather.

Rail services between Lincoln Central and Peterborough have been affected because of emergency engineering work taking place to prevent a landslip.

There were also delays on First Great Western services because of signalling problems between Truro and Falmouth Docks following a lighting strike at the docks.

Flooding between Radley and Oxford was causing delays to trains between Didcot Parkway and Oxford, which was disrupting CrossCountry and First Great Western services.

Several services across the Arriva Train Wales network were continuing to be disrupted due to the damage caused by the recent high winds and flooding.