PM to chair Cobra meeting as homes evacuated amid flooding
Prime Minister David Cameron will chair an emergency flood meeting as thousands of homes across the north of England experienced the effects of widespread flooding.
Mr Cameron said his thoughts were with those who had been flooded as hundreds of people were evacuated and thousands were left without power in West Yorkshire and Lancashire.
And local authorities across Yorkshire and the North West were preparing for more flooding as the Environment Agency (EA) issued 31 severe flood warnings, signalling a risk to life.
The Prime Minister said he will chair a conference call of the Government's emergency Cobra committee on Sunday.
"My thoughts are with people whose homes have been flooded," he wrote on Twitter.
There were 232 flood warnings and 144 flood alerts in place in England and Wales on Saturday evening.
The Met Office issued two of its most serious red weather warnings - danger to life - for the North West and Yorkshire.
The EA said the River Aire , which runs through central Leeds, had reached "record levels", with nine severe flood warnings in place.
It said: "We have experienced record levels in the Aire catchment. The peak at Leeds Crown Point is expected around 23.00 tonight. This is the highest ever record and higher than in 2007."
Flood sirens sounded at Walsden, Todmorden, Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd in Calderdale, Yorkshire, as the water breached defences.
About 10,000 homes in Rochdale and Lancashire lost their electricity supply after a main substation was damaged and another 3,000 homes in North and West Yorkshire were without power.
Northern Powergrid said several electricity substations had been flooded in the Calder Valley, Bingley and Skipton areas, and engineers were not able to access the substations to carry out repairs but the situation was being monitored.
Hundreds of people were evacuated from their homes in Lancashire and Calderdale, as soldiers were drafted in to help with the flooding.
Peter Box, environment spokesman for the Local Government Association, said councils are "pulling out all the stops" to find accommodation for people made homeless by the flooding and plans were in place to ensure older and more vulnerable people were not put at risk.
The Cobra committee held a meeting on Christmas Day and on Saturday morning in response to the flooding.
Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss said: "My thoughts and sympathy continue to be with people flooded out of their homes this Christmas and I can assure them we are doing everything we can to help communities recover from these storms."
Areas of Greater Manchester, including Salford, Bolton, Bury, Rochdale and Wigan, were badly affected by flooding.
A 200-year-old former pub, which sits on a bridge over the River Irwell, in Summerseat, Greater Manchester, was swept away in raging waters, while a gas explosion in Radcliffe was believed to have been caused by the flooding.
A pothole on the M62, which appeared between junctions 19 and 20 near Rochdale, closed the westbound carriageway and led to traffic chaos.
In north Wales, some drivers were forced to abandon their waterlogged cars in some areas.
Police and local authorities across the affected areas warned people not to drive unless necessary.
Rail passengers in Yorkshire were also advised not to travel, with multiple railways lines either closed or at risk of closure in the wake of severe flooding.
In Lancashire, the Fire and Rescue Service said it had been called out to around 350 incidents and rescued 50 people during the floods on Boxing Day, with a ll its boats and fire engines were mobilised to cope with the rising tide of incidents.
Fire crews were forced to evacuate a station in Padiham after it flooded.
Flood waters poured through the streets of Whalley and Ribchester after torrential downpours and homes were evacuated in the village of St Michael's on Wyre, which has been flooded several times this month.
In Calderdale, the council warned people to stay away from bridges after reports of footbridges collapsing across the district.
Todmorden was completely cut-off by flood waters and emergency services had to rescue a man from a car after he drove into deep flood water in Mytholmroyd.
York City Council said a multi-agency flood group meeting had taken place on Saturday to prepare to protect the city - which currently has six severe flood warnings in place and is predicted to peak at around 5 metres above normal summer level on Monday afternoon.
A number of Boxing Day football and racing events were called off, including the Welsh National in Chepstow and Blackburn Rovers fixture.
Alison Baptiste, EA flood duty manager, said: " On Boxing Day we have issued several severe flood warnings meaning a risk to life, we urge people to check their flood risk, prepare for flooding, follow advice from emergency services and never to risk driving through flood water."
Insurers have pledged emergency payments and alternative accommodation to customers caught up in the floods.
All-day emergency helplines will also be set up to give customers advice and help, said the Association of British Insurers (ABI).
Mark Shepherd, the organisation's manager for general insurance policy, promised the measures. He said: "Insurers will be doing everything possible to help customers hit by the latest floods."
He added: "As soon as flood waters recede and it is safe to do so they will be assessing damage and start the drying out process.
"Sadly there was also flooding over the Christmas and New Year period in the winter of 2013 and we saw then that many loss adjusters were on the ground the same day to help people affected."
The ABI said that customers would be contacted proactively in flooded areas to offer assistance, and that loss adjusters would be sent to flooded homes as businesses "as soon as is practically possible".
Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service tweeted: "In the last 24 hours we've had over 400 calls with more than 300 of them #flood related. Our crew and (hearts) go out together to those affected."
Electricity North West has warned that some properties may be without power until Monday.
Flood defences at a number of its substations have been breached with engineers working round the clock to restore power.
Chris Fox, systems manager for Electricity North West, said: "The flooding has meant that we can't access a number of substations to assess the damage, so we're warning customers that it may be Monday before we can restore some supplies.
"We're doing all we can and have restored as many properties as possible by switching as many as we can to other substations.
"We are continuing to bring generators to the area but can only connect them where it is safe to do so.
"We have teams ready to access the affected substations as soon as it is safe to do so, to restore supplies as soon as possible."
The operator said 9,500 properties remain without power, including 5,500 in Rochdale, 1,500 in Radcliffe, 1,500 in Padiham and 700 in Bury.