Communities across Devon were yesterday counting the cost of devastating floods caused when a month’s worth of rain fell in just 12 hours.
Hundreds of homes and businesses were wrecked as Devon bore the brunt of the storm which swept through in the early hours of Saturday.
After more than two inches of rain fell in just 18 hours in Devon, the Environment Agency put parts of the Rivers Yealm and Axe on the highest grade flood warning – “danger to life”.
Firefighters rescued more than ten people whose cars were stuck in floodwaters while swollen rivers and streams inundated properties, caused landslides and wreaked havoc on road and rail networks.
As the rain eased and the water receded, homeowners were left assessing the extent of the damage.
However, eight flood alerts and 15 flood warnings were still in place in the South West yesterday with more sporadic, heavy rain forecast.
Among the worst affected was Yealmbridge, Devon, in the South Hams, where homeowners were faced with a huge clean-up operation after homes were overwhelmed with up to six feet of water when the Yealm burst through sandbags put in place in a bid to bolster its flood defences. Muddy water marks streaked across houses, and tarmac on one of the roads in the small hamlet was ripped up under the weight of water.
Firefighters and teams from the Environment Agency were on the scene, pumping water from some of the homes.
Villagers spoke of waking up to torrents of water raging through the streets. Fourteen-year-old Mia Leech described “floods and floods of the river coming down the lane”.
She said: “By the time we got half the stuff upstairs the water was already up to our necks and past our heads.”
In nearby Yealmpton, some 40 homes and 75 residents on one side of the river were hit. The river reached a record height of seven and a half feet.
Sixty members of the emergency services, from fire, ambulance, police officers and the Dartmoor rescue group, evacuated residents, who were sheltered in a local rescue centre, while others chose to stay in their homes.
Villager Tony Stearn said he had not seen anything like it in 26 years.
“We were fairly fortunate as we are actually a bit raised up here, so luckily we were within about six inches of the house actually getting flooded, but the water level was tremendously up,” the 61-year-old retail business manager said. “It’s normally only about 18 inches deep at this time of year.”
Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service were called out to more than 100 flooding-related incidents during Saturday morning. Trapped residents were evacuated from their homes at Broom Lane, Hytherleigh, near Axminster, while two people rescued from floodwater at Trafalgar Way, in the East Devon town.
At Willhayes Park, Axminster, a man with a broken arm was rescued by firefighters with 3ft of water in his home. In all, 20 mainly elderly residents were rescued from the street and taken initially to Axminster fire station.
Two people were rescued from a car near Turk’s Head, Honiton, and another two from a lorry stuck in 4ft of water under a bridge at Whitford, Colyton.
Shops in Modbury were also inundated in what were described as the “worst floods in living memory”.
And parts of Sidmouth, Ottery St Mary, East Budleigh, Budleigh Salterton, Bittaford and Honiton were badly hit.
Environment Agency director Richard Creswell said a month’s worth of rain fell on the Yealmpton area in just over 12 hours.
“This was a really significant event,” he said. “The rain just overwhelmed the defences and unfortunately properties have been flooded, but thankfully no-one has been hurt. It’s very unpredictable weather patterns that have been affecting Britain over the last four to five months and we’ve had this heavy thundery rain, along with low pressure, affecting parts of the country. It just swirls around and is very hard to predict where it is going to be worst.”
Mr Cresswell said it was “flood number five of summer 2012” but warned: “No doubt later in the week we will be gearing up for possibly flood number six.”
Shows and sporting fixtures hit by weather
Popular events across Devon and Cornwall had to be cancelled over the weekend as the weather played havoc with the show calendar.
Liskeard agricultural show, which was due to be held on Saturday, had already been postponed due to waterlogged ground at Merrymeet and will now be held in September.
But the weekend deluge also accounted for the Dunsford Show, on Dartmoor, which had to be hastily rearranged and scaled back to be held in the village hall.
It also resulted in the cancellation of the Cornish Pilot Gig Association’s second Tribute Series event at Mevagissey on Saturday.
The Blackdown Woodland Fair, which was due to be staged on Saturday at Park Farm near Wellington in
Somerset, was another of the victims of the weather.
The Blackdown and East Devon Woodland Association called the event off before the worst of the weather struck.
“It is with deep regret, and a considerable amount of agonising, that the organisers of this year’s fair have decided
to cancel the event,” the association said.
“With the site already water-logged from two weeks of rain, and the seven-day Met Office forecast, it was felt that by the 7th things would only have got worse.”
Today’s race meeting at Newton Abbot has been abandoned due to a waterlogged track. Clerk of the course Jason Loosemore called an 11.30am inspection on Saturday after heavy overnight rain.
“We had a deluge last night, as lots of places in the South West did, and that has left us waterlogged,” he said yesterday. “The forecast is for a day of overcast weather with occasional showers and we would need a good few days of dry weather with a stiff breeze and warm sunshine to help.
“We’re not forecast that and we don’t have the time to dry out, so we have abandoned the meeting.”