All clear issued after floods devastate North West
The Environment Agency has issued an all clear for all areas in the North West of England after heavy wind and rain lashed the area, causing extreme flooding and causing millions of pounds worth of damage.A break in the bad weather has meant that residents and emergency services can start to assess the full extent of the damage as well as start repairs and recovery operations, although flood waters still remain.
Many parts of the North of England, Scotland and Wales were also badly affected.
Possibly the worst hit area was Carlisle, where over a month's average rainfall poured down in just 36 hours last weekend, causing the River Eden to over-power all eight kilometres of the city's flood defences. The 'Carlisle Major Incident Plan' was put into operation and 3,000 people were evacuated from their homes.
Despite this, three people were killed in the deluge and thousands were left without power or anywhere to live.
Steps were being taken to improve Carlisle's flood defence barriers before the disaster struck although the Environment Agency had said they believed the current defences to be good enough to withstand all but the most severe floods which occur maybe once every 70 years.
Last week's floodwaters rose at least three feet over those barriers.
The Environment Agency's flood maps, predicting the extent and nature of the flooding which would occur if the defences were breached proved extremely accurate, although this information was maybe not that useful after the flood itself.
Environment Minister Elliot Morley and Environment Agency Chairman Sir John Harman visited Carlisle to see the extent of the damage. They said that consultation would begin again to see what barriers would be developed in the future.
"We can't stop extremes of weather, so therefore you can never guarantee that floods won't happen - but you can reduce risk. It's why steps were being taken to upgrade Carlisle's defences. And we're spending something in the region of five hundred million pounds this year overall in relation to flood and coastal defence. There's a great deal we can do to reduce risk and we will do it," Mr Morley said.
Even with new defences, however, it is unlikely that all damage would have been abated as drains started to back up and spill onto the streets before the main deluge hit.
The Association of British Insurers (ABI) has advised property owners who have suffered in the floods to contact their insurer as soon as possible. It estimates the cost to the industry reaching tens of millions of pounds.
Free advice for those hit by the flood is available from the Environment Agency website or from the helpline 0845 988 1188.
It is hoped that the weekend's relatively clear weather will allow the waters to subside enough for recovery work to begin.
By David Hopkins