Wind, rain and snow to 'attack' UK and Ireland on 'Ferocious Friday'
Northern Ireland to get more snow and ice over coming days
More wind, rain and snow is forecast to "attack" the UK and Ireland on "Ferocious Friday" as communities try to clean up the trail of destruction left by Atlantic super-storm Darwin.
Northern Ireland has got off lightly so far compared to the havoc wreaked in the Republic and in England and Wales, where thousands of homes are still flooded and without power.
Here, the severe weather caused Belfast Zoo to shut for gritting, but it has mainly affected driving conditions including:
- In Co Down, the A2 coastal road between Warrenpoint and Rostrever is to stay shut for at least three days after it partially collapsed
- Disruption on the Bangor railway line after strong winds uprooted a tree at Craigavad
- Snow and ice on many roads between Coleraine and Maghera in County Londonderry
- Ulsterbus services between Clogher and Omagh, Co Tyrone were cancelled.
The Met Office is forecasting further snow for higher ground across the province in the coming days. Most areas will experience more blustery wintry showers with sunny intervals and overnight frost.
But the scale of the storm damage in Britain has been described as an "unparallelled" natural crisis by Army chief Major General Patrick Sanders, as hundreds of troops continue to help distraught home owners defend their properties from ever-rising floodwaters.
Compounding the damage from yesterday’s storm dubbed “Wild Wednesday”, winds of up to 80mph and further persistent, heavy rain will spread across the UK from the south west on Friday.
The Met Office has issued more than 400 yellow warnings for both the severe rain and wind going into the weekend, with the former bringing yet more misery to the “most sensitive” flood-hit areas of Wales and southern England.
The River Thames is expected to rise to its highest level in more than 60 years.
80,000 homes remain without power and further travel disruption is expected.
On Wednesday gusts of 112mph were recorded in Aberdaron in North Wales, the strongest so far in the storm.
One man, believed to be aged in his 70s, died in a suspected electrocution while attempting to move a tree that had been brought down by power cables in Chippenham, Wiltshire.
A lorry driver was taken to hospital after high winds blew over his vehicle in Bristol, while another received treatment after being trapped under a fallen tree in Chivenor, Barnstaple, Devon.
Travel chaos continues with train services cancelled, and at one point all Virgin trains travelling out of London Euston were suspended. The train operating company tweeted: "ALL CUSTOMERS TO ABANDON TRAVEL #UKSTORM."
Seas were last night beginning to build at Porthleven in Cornwall, where harbour master Phil Ward said the wind "is almost lifting the backs of cars".
Prime Minister David Cameron is today leading talks on Britain's recovery from one of the wettest winters on record.
In the Republic of Ireland about 165,000 homes and businesses remain without power after the ferocity of the worst storm in 25 year took many counties by surprise.
Hurricane-strength gales tore roofs from buildings; forced schools and workplaces into lockdown; toppled hundreds of trees and cut electricity to more than 260,000 homes.
Darwin made landfall in Clare, Limerick, Kerry and Cork soon after 6am but then spiralled north towards Kilkenny, Waterford and Wexford, carving a trail of destruction.
Local authorities scrambled to react, and a major emergency was declared in Kilkenny after more than two dozen weather-related incidents.
Across the country, violent winds brought down power lines; ripped apart homes; and forced the temporary closure of Shannon and Cork airports.
The storm overturned trucks and closed the M8 Dublin-Cork motorway; left the rail network paralysed; and resulted in more than a dozen cars being crushed by fallen trees.
Northern Ireland Electricity (NIE) has sent 70 staff to the south to help repair its storm-damaged electricity network.
New storm front
Today, homeowners and business owners are picking up the pieces, with structural damage on a scale not seen since the Christmas storm of 1998.
A yellow warning for snow and ice is in place for the whole country and a gale warning continues on all Irish coastal waters and the Irish Sea.
Met Eireann is now tracking another storm front which could hit Ireland from tomorrow, bringing the threat of further misery and hampering the nationwide repair efforts.
A Met Eireann spokesman said: “In terms of destruction it's probably the worst we've seen in a while.
“Today our highest winds were around 86 knots (160kph), so we're just under record territory for the south and west.
“This is the end of a month of storms so structures can already be loosened. The storm over Christmas 1998 might be the last time we've had anything quite as widespread, or caused as much damage.”
Hospitals in Limerick and Cork were dealing with at least 30 cases of weather-related injuries and the roads were littered with crashes and obstructions from flooding and fallen trees.
In Laois, a mother, grandmother and three young children escaped death when a large tree fell on their car as they made their way home.
In Limerick, student Jill Holmes had a miraculous escape when winds ripped through her fourth-storey, top-floor apartment, blasting off a patio door and a chunk of her kitchen.
"I was just standing in the kitchen when I saw the door was coming ajar and it was coming off its hinges," she said.
"I just stepped away and it flew (out) on to the street. I tried to move everything away from the door. I hope that no-one got hurt there on the street."
A mini-tornado struck Roscommon General Hospital with one car being crushed by a fallen tree.
An evacuation of an entire floor at Ennis General Hospital in Clare was prompted after the staff and patients complained of hearing loud noises from the roof.
In Shannon, 150kph winds lifted an unoccupied commuter plane off the tarmac before it smashed to the ground, collapsing its undercarriage and leaving the aircraft resting on its left wing tip.
Armed forces battle elements
As Britons continue to suffer at the hands of extreme weather, the nation's armed forces have been drafted in across the country to help deal with the ongoing crisis.
More than 2,000 personnel from the army, navy and RAF have been committed to tasks, with thousands more at a state of "high readiness", the Ministry of Defence said.
A spokeswoman said personnel are in various silver and gold command headquarters across flood-affected areas, dealing with requests for help.
In the Thames Valley area, around 100 troops from 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers are in Wraysbury, Berkshire, while more than 300 are in Windsor, Datchet and Chertsey in Surrey.
They are conducting a variety of tasks including filling and distributing sandbags, erecting barriers, helping residents, examining the condition of existing flood defences and general duties helping the emergency services.
In Reading, more than 30 people from 9 Transport Logistics Regiment are building a sandbag wall at Southcote Mill, the spokeswoman said.
In Surrey, more than 360 military personnel from 2 Royal Gurkha Rifles, 1st Battalion Royal Welsh and people from both 19 and 47 Regiment Royal Artillery have been helping with the relief effort.
"Other key military taskings over the last 24 hours have included completion of a sandbag wall to help defend Desborough Island, deploying a flood barrier at Chertsey Bridge Road and the ongoing assessment and protection of Critical National Infrastructure assets," the spokeswoman said.
"In addition, the army has been involved in assisting and evacuating vulnerable residents in the area."
In Croydon and Kenley, army personnel have been sandbagging and constructing flood defences, focusing on protecting a water chlorination plant which is at risk of flooding, while at Chieveley in Berkshire, 80 RAF personnel are working to fill sandbags on behalf of the Environment Agency.
Around 100 Royal Marines are continuing to work in the Somerset Levels, moving and filling sandbags; filling "Hesco" barriers, relocating pumps and providing general support to the local authorities and emergency services, the MoD said.
And there is also a military presence in Winchester, Hampshire, where help is being given to people whose homes have been affected by flooding.
The army's Engineering Dive Team is also on hand to help with removing blockages from water courses, the MoD said.
Ministers in England have condemned councils charging residents in flood-hit areas for sandbags, saying there is "absolutely no reason" for them to do so.
Christchurch Borough Council in Dorset has been asking locals to pay £30 for four sandbags.
A spokesman said: "The situation is that if an emergency is called then we will provide sandbags free of charge.
"We cannot provide them just because people are concerned about things... currently there are no alerts."
Resident Steve Richards told the Bournemouth Echo: "My brother bought 50 at an incredibly high cost but 50 sandbags goes nowhere.
"We feel so helpless, pleading for help and no-one's giving it, yet you switch on the television and the Prime Minister is pledging that no-one will be left vulnerable and money's no object."
Up until the end of last week Tewkesbury Borough Council was issuing free bags to local people - but asking them to pay for sand to go in them.
A spokeswoman said it had now decided to be "flexible" about the policy. "In a situation like this we are issuing sandbags to anybody that needs them," she added.
Local Government minister Brandon Lewis said: "There is absolutely no reason for any councils to be charging residents for sandbags. Councils are able to claim any costs for their emergency response to flooding back from Government under the Bellwin scheme.
"We have spoken to every Local Authority in the country and are confident that there are more than enough supplies to meet local needs, with volunteers and military support on the ground to make them ready.
"We are able to supply up to 10,000 sandbags a day, and councils such as Northamptonshire and Lincolnshire have been coming to the aid of neighbouring areas."
Government sources said no council had reported any problems obtaining sandbags, and there were 25,000 filled and ready to be deployed.
They insisted local authorities would be able to claim back any cost through the Government's Bellwin scheme, which provides assistance in emergencies.
People have been urged to steer clear of "flood sightseeing" after it emerged that drivers hoping to get a glimpse of deluged communities were causing additional damage to flood-hit homes.
Concerns have been raised that those driving through submerged streets in 4x4s are creating waves of water which is causing extra damage to properties.
Thames Valley Police last night issued three anti-social driving notices to motorists in flood-hit communities.
The force issued the warning after residents in the flood-stricken community of Datchet, near Windsor, raised concerns.
Issuing advice on YouTube, Inspector Mark Millward said: "I attended a meeting at the community centre in Datchet last night and one of the main concerns from the residents there was about sightseers that are coming down to see the flooding and are driving through it in their 4x4s which is obviously causing waves of water into premises which causes additional damage.
"So we took a proactive approach to it last night. We stopped four vehicles that were trying to go through it and a number of them were served notices for antisocial behaviour use of vehicles.
"This is a message to drivers: don't go down there. Don't go driving through the water because you are causing damage to property and we will be following it up with our police powers."
Two high-volume pumps imported from the Netherlands have started work to try and reduce the water levels on the flooded Somerset Levels.
The Dutch equipment has been installed at Dunball, north of Bridgwater, to pump water from the most saturated parts of the Levels into the River Perrett and out to sea.
The Environment Agency (EA) said the scheme would reduce the flood risk in the villages of Northmoor and Saltmoor by reducing the water levels on the River Tone.
Some parts of the Levels have been flooded since Christmas and the rising water has caused dozens of homes to flood, roads closed, villages cut off and disrupted rail services.
Two of the 13 high-capacity Dutch pumps have been located at Dunball while others have been installed in Beerwall.
It total the EA has 96 pumps in use and is currently pumping from the Levels enough water a day to fill Wembley Stadium three times.
But it has warned there is a continued high risk of flooding into the weekend.
Meanwhile, some local residents have criticised the authorities' response to the flooding crisis.
Around 300 members of the public attended a public meeting in Huntworth last night to air their concerns at the ongoing floods on the Levels - accusing the EA of sacrificing villages to prevent the flood water reaching Bridgwater.
The EA has constructed a temporary earth bank between the villages of Moorland and Huntworth to try to hold water back from the town, where around 1,000 homes on the outskirts are at risk of flooding.
Residents in the village of Westonzoyland fear their homes could be flooded because water is being pumped into the King's Sedgemoor Drain relief channel close to their properties in order to protect Bridgwater.
But the EA said additional flood defence measures are being installed to make sure that does not happen.
"There has been some concern raised about a number of locations in that relief channel, such as Aller Drove and Westonzoyland," Jim Flory, area environment manager, said.
"The key thing to emphasise by releasing water from the River Parrett into the River Sowy is a controlled process and we do it by opening and shutting the sluice gates.
"We will be gradually opening it very incrementally and very carefully monitor it to make sure that the additional pumps we have put in are bringing the water through and not causing additional problems elsewhere.
"To make sure we are being completely secure in what we are doing we have put in some additional flood defences around Aller Drove and parts of Westonzoyland."
Meanwhile, the leader of Somerset County Council is backing the call by the Prime Minister for utility companies to do their bit to help victims of flooding.
Councillor John Osman said: "It was clear from talking to people in Somerset who have been directly affected by the flooding, and particularly Flooding on the Levels Action Group (Flag), that this was a really good idea.
"I've heard stories that some people who have been forced out of their homes have faced hefty bills or have been asked to pay hundreds of pounds to suspend a service. That is not fair.
"As a council we took the lead by offering to waive the county council part of homeowners' council tax bill for everyone stranded or unable to live at home.
"We called on other councils and businesses to follow suit, and I'm delighted to hear that our Prime Minister feels the same."
Video: Clifden RNLI rescue fish farmers in stormy seas
Belfast Telegraph Digital