Atlantic super-storm Darwin shuts airports, collapses roads and cuts power across England, Wales and Ireland
110mph winds recorded - scroll down for latest Met Office and Met Eireann updates
A rare red weather alert issued by both the Met Office and Met Eireann has come to fruition as Atlantic super-storm Darwin wreaks havoc across the UK and Ireland.
Northern Ireland has been stepped up to "amber warning" for wind across all six counties as the storm battering England and Wales veers west on Wednesday evening.
North-west England, Wales, Cork and Kerry bore the brunt of the severe weather on Wednesday, where the alert was raised to the highest possible level.
Heavy rain, blizzards and "exceptionally strong winds" as strong as 110mph have brought down trees and cut off power supplies to 260,000 customers in the Republic of Ireland and 3,000 homes in Wales.
Cork and Shannon Airports have been forced to close - a plane was damaged in the storm at Shannon - and there are delays and diversions at Dublin Airport.
Belfast City and International airports have been operating as normal but will post updates on Twitter throughout the evening.
A state of emergency was declared in Co Kilkenny and Gardai warned people in the south to stay indoors after violent winds ripped roofs off buildings in Limerick.
The Met Office said the Northern Irish public should be prepared for the the risk of disruption to transport and possibly also power supplies. In addition, large waves are likely to affect some western coasts.
Winds are "hurricane force" in the Irish Sea and earlier today a ship south of Ireland recorded winds of 110mph.
Police have warned motorists to reduce their speed and exercise caution on the roads as reports of fallen trees came in, particularly in the South Down and Armagh areas.
Northern Ireland Electricity (NIE) said it has emergency crews, engineers and call handlers on stand-by for any damage to the province's electricity network tonight, especially in exposed southern and eastern locations where winds of 80mph may be felt.
Customers who lose electricity supplies should contact the NIE Customer Helpline on 08457 643 643 or report the fault online at nie.co.uk. Updates will be posted on Twitter at @NIElectricity.
Showers turning to snow over higher ground on Wednesday night.
A chunk of the Rostrevor Road/Warrenpoint Road in Co Down gave way on Wednesday morning at the Drunsesk Road junction.
The route was washed away, following continuing poor weather to hit coastal regions in the last few weeks.
It has been closed, with diversions in place through Rostrevor, Hilltown, Rathfriland, Mayobridge and onto Warrenpoint.
SDLP South Down MLA Karen McKevitt said it was dangerous for both commuters and agency staff on the scene dealing with it.
"Roads Service engineers have been working to make repairs to the stretch of road but this has been delayed by the discovery of an exposed 11,000 watt electricity cable," she said.
"This has been extremely worrying but fortunately NIE technicians are now on site with us, working to make the scene safe."
The Met Office has also forecast 70mm (2.75 inches) of rain by Friday in the already sodden West Country - more than the region would normally get in the whole of February - with south Wales, western Scotland, Northern Ireland and other parts of southern England also expected to bear the brunt of the deluge.
The latest bad weather warnings come as a government minister warned there was no "blank cheque" to pay for repairing the damage of weeks of storm and floods that have affected parts of England.
Prime Minister David Cameron, who this morning chaired a meeting of the Government's Cobra emergencies committee in 10 Downing Street, promised yesterday that "money is no object" in offering relief to those affected by the floods.
At the Cobra meeting, Environment Agency chief executive Paul Leinster told the Prime Minister that flooding could reach levels last seen in 1947 in some parts of the UK, though he said improvements in defences since that point meant that fewer homes were expected to be inundated.
Mr Cameron has cancelled a planned trip to the Middle East to take personal charge of the response to the flooding crisis. Tomorrow he will chair the first meeting of a new Cabinet committee set up to oversee the recovery effort.
He warned yesterday that "things may get worse before they get better", but said every effort would be made to help affected areas get back on their feet, with new support allocated for householders, businesses and farms.
Sixteen severe flood warnings - indicating a danger to life - remained in place in Berkshire, Surrey and Somerset this morning, with a further 122 flood warnings and 225 flood alerts. There were warnings that high winds could bring down trees and cause disruption to transport and power supplies.
Residents in Staines, Surrey, were evacuated from their flood-hit homes during the night, while around 1,000 homes in the Thameside village of Datchet were left without electricity during the night after power cuts which initially affected 1,700 properties.
A primary school in Wraysbury, Berkshire, was reportedly turned into a "24/7 control centre" for residents affected by flooding, while the BBC reported that the army and police had set up checkpoints in the village following fears of looting at the homes of flood victims.
Pets including two sheepdogs and their six puppies and a tortoise have been rescued from flood waters by the RSPCA.
Officers from the animal welfare charity have also rescued a number of horses and chickens and other animals and provided support to residents left stranded by the floods in the town of Wraysbury, Berkshire.
The RSPCA team said it had helped several people to safety from their houses and given advice to pet owners who were staying in their homes.
Among the pets rescued in the town were a hibernating tortoise, which was reunited with its owner in the rescue area, one rabbit in its hutch whose owners were away and two adult sheepdog-type dogs and their six puppies.
Officers have also helped owners move three horses from a flooded yard to a drier field, rescue 30 chickens from a flooded pen and move 30 to 40 koi carp to transport them to their owner's friend's pond, the charity said.
Rosie Russon, from the RSPCA water rescue team, said: "We took the decision to deploy to the town yesterday, after receiving reports that there were people in need.
"The team have been going door to door offering help and advice - from pet owners concerned about how to protect their animals, to elderly people who needed assistance evacuating their homes to a place of safety.
"It is thanks to the generosity of the public that the RSPCA exists and is able to carry out our vital work, so it is wonderful to be able to give support to people as well as animals during this difficult time," she added.
Across the country, the RSPCA said it had taken more than 1,500 flood-related calls since the beginning of the year, and had rescued more than 200 animals.
The charity had also provided advice, support and monitoring in relation to more than 5,500 animals.
A 10-mile section of a busy motorway remains closed after the discovery yesterday of a 15ft-deep hole in the central reservation.
The section is on the M2 in north Kent, between junction 5 near Sittingbourne and junction 6 south of Faversham.
The hole - about 16ft long and 6ft wide - led to the section being closed from early yesterday afternoon, leading to big tailbacks on routes leading to and from the Kent coast.
The Highways Agency (HA) said work was continuing to find out what caused the hole to open and that the section remained closed for safety reasons.
The agency went on: "Drivers heading to and from Dover are advised to use the M20. The Highways Agency and its contractors are working hard with partners, including the emergency services and Kent County Council, to minimise disruption as much as possible.
"This has included ensuring any planned roadworks are not carried out on nearby local and strategic roads. Lanes on the M2 will only be reopened to traffic as soon it is safe to do so."
The agency said engineers were joined on site by emergency services including Kent Fire & Rescue Service. Cameras are being used to investigate the extent and nature of the hole.
The HA added that the site had been monitored overnight, while equipment and materials were being organised and deployed to the site ready for the agency's contractors to start work as soon as it is safe to do so.
A signed diversion is in place via the A249, the M20, the A20, the A252 and the A251.
Environment Agency staff are not being sent to a flood-hit area because of hostility from members of the public, it has emerged.
It is understood that staff were abused in the Wraysbury area of Berkshire, and have now been told to report any incidents to the agency.
Justin Bowden, national officer of the GMB union commented: "This report of hostility from the residents on the Thames is a direct result of the irresponsible attack by Eric Pickles (Communities Secretary) and others on the EA.
"His incitement has led to the very people on the frontline who are actually helping to alleviate the situation bearing the brunt of people's frustrations.
"For more than seven weeks since Christmas the Environment Agency's staff have been run ragged helping and supporting the victims of flooding. GMB members have been working double and triple shifts around the clock to protect and assist."
The GMB said David Cameron had repeatedly refused to say whether he would halt planned redundancies at the EA when he was asked by Labour leader Ed Miliband at Prime Minister's Questions.
Grants to the EA have been cut in real terms by more than a quarter over the past three years, said the GMB.
"The Government must immediately reverse the ludicrous cut of 1,700 EA jobs, followed by an independent inquiry into what are the realistic funding levels necessary to ensure the EA has both the capital budget to protect the country from flooding and drought and a big enough revenue budget to maintain, service and run these vital defences," added Mr Bowden.
Construction equipment giant JCB has reacted to the national flooding crisis by deploying a £750,000 fleet of machines to help out in the worst-affected areas.
The Staffordshire-based company said four high-speed Fastrac tractors are being sent to areas where people and livestock need to be moved away from advancing flood waters.
Meanwhile, two JCB backhoe excavators will be used to bolster flood defences and eventually assist in clearing away debris left behind by floodwater.
JCB has already supplied a telescopic handling machine to support Somerset farmers left without feed and bedding for livestock evacuated to dry land.
JCB chairman Lord Bamford said: "The scale of the floods and the anguish being caused is devastating for all concerned.
"As Britain's biggest manufacturer of construction equipment, we are in a position to provide machinery quickly to help families and farmers who are suffering so dreadfully through the floods.
"It's my hope that the JCB machines we're providing will help alleviate that suffering."
The machines are being shipped from JCB's world headquarters in Rocester, Staffordshire, today and will be operated by drivers provided by the Construction Industry Training Board.
Allotment owners and gardeners hit by flooding have been warned against eating fruit and vegetable crops that could have been contaminated by sewage.
The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) issued the warning as it set out advice for gardeners on coping with flooding, which is set to linger into the spring when people will be starting to sow and plant flowers and food crops.
The long-term effects of flooding on gardens should not be too bad, as long as the flood water was not seawater, the RHS said.
Chief horticultural adviser at the RHS Guy Barter said: "Once the water goes down, the soil will be ready to sow and plant after a few days.
"There could be rubbish to pick up and people have got to be aware of contamination from sewage, and they will want to take appropriate precautions for that.
"The soil won't be damaged beyond repair, although nutrients will be washed away so investment in fertilisers is a good idea.
"But if we get an average spring and summer there should be no long-term consequences."
Edible crops close to being harvested should not be eaten in case flood water was contaminated, the RHS advised.
Crops that are eaten raw should not be harvested for another six months, although the experts said it was best to avoid growing salads and uncooked crops in flooded land for two years to avoid the risk of disease spores.
But crops such as root vegetables which are cooked before being eaten are safe, and fruit from trees and bushes that stand above the water will also be safe to consume, the RHS said.
Rubbish left in gardens after the floods recede should be put out in the household waste or bagged up and taken to the local waste disposal site.
Gardeners are also being urged to make sure products such as greenhouse paraffin, fertilisers and pesticides are put where they cannot cause pollution.
And electricity in sheds and greenhouses should be disconnected if it is likely they will be flooded, and not switched on again until it has been checked by a qualified electrician.
Ruined plants can be dug into the soil or put in the compost bin, the RHS said, but fertiliser or mulch should not be put on the soil when it is saturated as it may cause pollution or be wasted.
The experts also said that where it looked like there would be serious delays in the soil drying out, gardeners should sow plants in pots and seed trays on the patio, at home and or window sills or buy plants in from nurseries so they can get them outside in mid-spring.
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