PICTURES: Devon and Cornwall hit by flooding misery with more heavy rain on the way
The Westcountry has been warned to brace itself for another battering of awful weather today, while many parts of the region remain on flood alert.
Forecasters are warning of more torrential rain and winds of up to 70mph following a day of very wet weather which sent a deluge pouring down across the region and which at one point threatened an entire village as a canal broke its banks.
More downpours and strong, gusting winds are expected to sweep across the region this morning, causing further flooding and widespread disruption.
Yesterday the torrential downpours on already sodden ground dislodged two 100ft chunks of the retaining wall of the Grand Western Canal – causing millions of gallons of water to drain out.
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At one point it was feared water might cascade down into the village of Halberton, near Tiverton, and residents of a row of prone houses were warned they may have had to flee.
Acting Inspector Matt Lazenby, who was helping co-ordinating the operation across the Devon and Cornwall, said: "We have been stretched by the sheer volume of calls and the severity of the flooding," he said.
"But all the services have been working well together and we have coped."
Inspector Andy Oliver said the situation at Halberton had been contained.
"There was a horizontal breach of the canal wall when a 100 feet section sheered away on the north bank.
Fortunately the water emptied into a field. But then a similar length went on the south bank, which is on the side of the village."
Insp Oliver said the earlier breach meant most of the water was discharging away from properties.
He said temporary dams had been put in place and appeared to be holding.
Lloyd Cockram, landlord of the Barge Pub in Halberton, said it was a worrying time.
"The roads have all been closed off and we were told part of the canal bank had collapsed and a row of houses at the end of the village might have to be evacuated."
Meanwhile, as fire crews received hundreds of pleas for help, military helicopters were scrambled to winch people to safety as villages were cut off.
Dozens of roads were last night still submerged, including the A396 near Stoke Canon, at confluence of the rivers Exe and Culm, where drivers faced a seven feet wall of water.
Forecasters said the worst of the downpours that flooded many places across the Westcountry yesterday was far from over as the Environment Agency again issued scores of flood alerts with rivers expected to break their banks today.
A spokeswoman for the Met Office said there would be no let up. "There will be more heavy rain and it is likely that we will see further issues of disruption to transport.
"The wet and windy weather will move across the region with all parts of Cornwall, Devon and Somerset affected.
"But along with the rain, there will also be some really quite windy weather with gusts up to 40-50miles per hour and sometimes up to 70 miles per hour on exposed coasts."
In a timeframe lasting until midnight tonight, the Met Office said the awful weather would first blast Cornwall at about 9am then move eastwards. There may be a brief respite on Friday, but after the lull, more rain and strong winds are on the cards.
Yesterday Devon was the worst affected by torrential rain with almost 45mm falling at Dunkeswell – about half the amount expected in a month.
Flood warnings issued by the Environment Agency crept up from dozens to hundreds during the course of the day. By last night more than 200 flood warnings and alerts were in place, mostly in the south west of England and the Midlands.
Alison Baptiste, Environment Agency Flood Risk Manager, urged people to continue checking their website for up-to-date information about the dangers in their local area.
"We ask that people stay safe, by staying away from swollen rivers and not attempting to drive through floodwater."
400 calls for help as homes count the cost
Householders and businesses were today counting the cost of freak weather after heavy rain caused widespread flooding across the Westcountry.
As a deluge of rainfall swamped areas of the region yesterday, vehicles were abandoned and there were reports of entire villages being cut off as water surged through lanes and streets and into homes.
Devon bore the brunt of the torrential rain with fire and rescue services working flat out all day.
As the Western Morning News went to press last night, firefighters in the county had received more than 400 calls for assistance, with the first coming through just after 2am.
At least 18 vehicles were caught up in the deluge and at one point 20 fire engines were simultaneously involved in rescues, including appliances from Avon and Somerset and Dorset.
A search and rescue helicopter from Chivenor was called out to pluck one woman from a car stranded in floodwater at Silverton.
In Somerset, a crew from Chew Magna went to an address in Stowey Bottom, Bishop Sutton, where they helped a woman in labour to safely leave her flood-affected property.
Police and fire services urged drivers not to head into water.
A spokesman for Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service said: "Do not attempt to drive through flooded roads or fords.
"The water is often deeper than it looks and may be moving quite fast. Your vehicle may be swept away or become stranded. Vehicles can float away in just two feet of water."
Meanwhile, the villages of Yealmpton and Tamerton Foliot in Devon were described by residents as "impassable".
Homeowner Nora Tisdall said: "The stream is pouring out over the road like a waterfall. The village is totally impassable.
"I've lived here 21 years and I've never seen it flood."
The village of Dinhams, near Ruishton, Somerset, which sits just in front of the River Tone, were also cut off.
Two large landslips were reported on the B3192 near Teignmouth Golf Club, Devon and a further slide was reported on a train line near Chippenham.
Rail services also ground to a halt after lines were submerged and trains stranded.
In Devon more than a dozen schools sent pupils home.
In Somerset 30 schools and colleges either did not open or closed during the course of the day.
A statement from North Curry C of E Primary School, east of Taunton in Somerset, said: "The village and roads leading in are flooded and only a couple of staff members can get in.
"Also, parents cannot get the children through the floods. It is treacherous and the rain shows no sign of easing."
Numerous roads across Devon and Somerset were closed for all or part of the day and when roads did reopen they were frequently found to have been badly damaged by the floods.
Vivary Park in Taunton is likely to be closed for days following severe flooding.
Meanwhile, the switch-on of Plymouth's Christmas lights this evening was among many events and even council meetings which have had to be postponed or cancelled.