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Driver dies in floods, dozens evacuated in landslides

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: November 24, 2012

  • Firemen survey the scene in Exeter after a high section of wall in St David's Hill collapsed under the weight of the saturated ground behind it. Rescue teams scoured rubble with thermal cameras and 40 elderly residents from adjacent flats were evacuated. Below, a property teeters on the edge of oblivion in Torquay

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Families were evacuated after relentless torrential rain on already sodden ground brought walls crashing down and sparked landslides.

The Westcountry again bore the brunt of the terrible weather suffering widespread flooding and disruption.

The heavy rain claimed its first fatality in Somerset where a man died after his car became submerged in the rising water and was trapped beneath a bridge.

In Exeter, a 30-foot high section of wall in St David's Hill collapsed on Thursday night under the weight of the saturated ground behind it.

Firefighters spent hours scouring the rubble with thermal cameras in case anyone was trapped underneath.

Due to concerns that further parts of the structure may give way, around 40 elderly and vulnerable residents from adjacent flats were evacuated and Hele Road in the city also remains shut.

Part of the University of Exeter's £48 million Forum building was also flooded on Thursday evening when water poured through the ceiling of the alumni auditorium into a section of the library.

In Torquay, four houses in Warren Road were evacuated and remain at risk after the torrential downpours resulted in a landslide. Structural engineers from Torbay Council were yesterday monitoring the situation to see if further action was required.

In Mevagissey, a clear-up was under way yesterday after there was a landslip on the harbour's west quay.

Meanwhile, firefighters spent the afternoon pumping out the Grand Western Canal in a bid to lower water levels ahead of further heavy rain forecast this weekend.

On Wednesday, two 100-feet sections of the canal wall buckled under the strain and collapsed, briefly threatening a row of houses in the village of Halberton, near Tiverton.

Phil Brind, whose family runs the Tiverton Canal Company which operates the Westcountry's last horse-pulled barges, said what had happened had been a tragedy.

"It's really sad. It's like a bereavement," he said.

"We are absolutely devastated.

Mr Brind paid tribute to the engineers working for Devon County Council, which owns the waterway and who managed to erect a dam in the canal either side of the breach and stem the flow of water.

A council spokesman said sluice gates controlling water levels had been open on the canal but the volume of water was "unprecedented."

He said: "Work is still on-going and it is too soon to tell what the cost of the damage will be."

Staff at Cornwall's Wild Futures' Monkey Sanctuary, near Looe, were also cleaning up at the attraction after flooding caused "significant damage" to buildings including offices and public toilets.

A spokesman for the centre said the animals had been moved to a safe enclosure.

Workers at South Hams District Council depot in Totnes filled around 1,400 sandbags, using 27 tonnes of sand to distribute to householders.

The torrential rain is also continuing to cause disruption to transport. The railway line was closed between Taunton and Exeter and flooding around Crediton brought disruption to the Exeter to Barnstaple line. Both train services were replaced by buses.

Part of the Taunton to Castle Cary line was also affected.

In Cornwall, the St Ives branch line was also blocked on Thursday due to flooding.

A spokesman for First Great Western said trains were continuing to operate between Paddington and Taunton and Exeter and Penzance.

Read more from Exeter Express and Echo

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