The Government warns of “dangerous” flooding and high tides as severe rain and gales of up to 70mph are forecast to lash Britain
Fresh warnings of severe weather and widespread flooding have been issued for the UK, as the Government called an emergency meeting over the conditions.
Floods and strong winds have hit households across the country, with roads closed, train services disrupted and hundreds of homes without electricity.
Authorities are urging people to be extra vigilant as the country prepares for more vicious weather, severe gales and torrential rain.
More than 270 weather warnings and alerts have been issued by the Environment Agency, affecting every region of England and Wales.
Its floods manager Wendy Brooks told Sky News that it would be issusing some “severe flood warnings” later, which means there “couid be risk to people’s lives and property”.
The flood risk will extend along the UK coastline from north-west England, through Wales and south-west and southern England. Areas particularly at risk include the Isles of Scilly, the north and south coasts of Devon and Cornwall, Dorset and the coastline of Wales.
The Thames Barrier in London had been closed to protect people and property along the river, the agency said.
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency has also issued several flood warnings, with some 14 throughout Tayside.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson chaired an urgent meeting in response to flooding that has wreaked havoc.
“We had a range of ministers from right across government attending, who will be working very closely with local councils, power companies, utilities and transport companies, making sure that all those organisations are absolutely prepared for the bad weather that is coming,” he said.
“I would appeal to everyone to keep in very close touch with the warnings that are being put out on a regular basis by the Environment Agency, to pay heed to them, as these floods and the coast will be dangerous.”
Dozens of flood warnings have been put in place, mostly in the South East and South West, with strong winds of up to 60 to 70mph, heavy downpours and more flooding forecast over the coming days.
Sky News weather presenter Nazaneen Ghaffar said: “There is further heavy rain coming in this evening from the west and spreading eastwards. It is going to be quite heavy at times.
“It is not anything too unusual for the time of year. It is just that we are having so much rain coming in, in a short space of time, falling on the already saturated ground.
“Therefore, we are going to see the risk of further flooding in many areas, and the winds are going to be strong tomorrow with gusts up to 60 to 70mph along exposed western coasts. This could cause some damage as well, some travel disruption is likely too.
“It is going to remain stormy for the rest of the week, even into the start of next week as well.”
A search for a 27-year-old man who was swept out to sea while celebrating the new year on the beach with friends at Loe Bar, near Porthleven, in Cornwall, was called off on Thursday after a body was found
That came after a woman, thought to be on holiday wither her family, died in the surf in north Devon.
The coastguard is also searching for a man who is believed to have fallen into the River Stour, near Iford Bridge in Christchurch, Dorset.
And emergency services across the country are searching for several people who have not been seen since New Year’s Eve.
Pete Fox, head of strategy at the Environment Agency, said: “We are expecting flooding along the west and south coasts of England and Wales, due to a combination of strong winds, large waves and high tides, from the early hours of Friday and into the weekend.
“Coastal paths and promenades could be highly dangerous as there is an increased risk of being swept out to sea. People are warned to stay away from the shoreline.
“The Environment Agency is monitoring the situation closely, working alongside partners including the Met Office and local authorities. Environment Agency teams are out on the ground making sure that flood defences are in good working order, monitoring sea levels and preparing to issue flood alerts and warnings.
A Cornwall police spokesman said: “There are people who enjoy swimming in all weathers as well as those who may under-estimate the danger a rough sea can pose.
“During the current bad weather, we would appeal to everyone to use common sense and not put themselves in unnecessary danger.”
Meanwhile, in Liphook, Hampshire, 300 homes lost power after lines were brought down in the stormy weather.