Heavy rains triggered floods in northern England and Scotland yesterday, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of homes and the deployment troops to shore up overwhelmed defences.Lancashire in northwest England and Yorkshire in the northeast were the worst affected, with environment officials issuing 335 alerts, including 31 warnings of possible deadly floods.The Met Office national weather service issued its most serious “red warning”, which calls on those in areas at risk to take action.About 10,000 homes in the region were without power after a substation was damaged, and many elderly and other vulnerable people were rescued from inundated homes by lifeboat.In some areas, water reached the lower windows of houses and shops, turning high streets into muddy waterways, and cars were abandoned after narrow country lanes turned into fast-flowing streams.York City Council said the River Ouse was expected to peak at more than 5m — close to its highest recorded level of 5.40m.The Environment Agency said the River Ouse’s water level had reached 4.65m yesterday. Its typical level is between 0.5m and 1.9m.
Officials said pumps at the Foss Barrier — where the River Foss joins the River Ouse — had been overwhelmed and flood barriers had to be lifted, meaning areas in York that would usually be protected were now vulnerable to flooding.The Scottish Environment Protection Agency issued more than 15 flood warnings in the Scottish borders and Tayside areas, as well as a number of flood alerts.Underscoring the severity of the deluge, Prime Minister David Cameron is expected to visit the flood-hit region today after chairing an emergency COBRA committee meeting last night.An emergency meeting had also been held on Christmas Day.“My thoughts are with people whose homes have been flooded. I’ll chair a COBRA call tomorrow to ensure everything is being done to help,” Mr Cameron tweeted.Officials are under pressure after similar flooding earlier this month in northwest England.In Lancashire, emergency workers backed by the military buttressed defences with extra sandbags and heavy trucks brought in rescue equipment able to drive through waters too high to safely traverse on foot. Hundreds of people were evacuated from their homes after water breached flood barriers and poured into the streets. Beleaguered residents in some towns were told to abandon their homes for higher ground while others were told to move their valuables and listen to advice from emergency services about possible evacuation.A stranded Abbi Blackburn had no sandbags to protect her home and had already lost major appliances to flooding in the basement. She said it was too dangerous to leave either on foot or in a vehicle. “It’s getting quite bad and it’s still walloping down with rain,” she said.
Lancashire police tried to persuade the curious to stay away from the danger zones. “A severe flood warning means danger to life. It doesn’t mean ‘Come and have a look’,” they tweeted.One fire station had been evacuated but its boat crews and “swift water rescue” crews were helping others to safety.Floods Minister Rory Stewart said rainfall in the affected areas was unprecedented.Resources are thin. Officials said 85 per cent of Britain’s flood defence barriers have already been deployed to the Cumbria area, in the far northwestern corner of England, as the Lakeland region braced itself again ahead of the deluge.The floods in Cumbria caused damage estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars and turned many towns and villages into swamps, prompting accusations that the government had failed to spend enough on flood defences.Met Office forecaster Greg Dewhurst said the latest weather was “unusual” when the mild conditions enjoyed during December were taken into account.