Historical levels of rainfall in Cumbria over the last 36 hours have overtopped flood defences on the River Cocker and Derwent at Cockermouth, and caused the collapse of three bridges.
Northside Bridge in Workington collapsed leaving a police officer missing. It was the main bridge into Workington on the A597 and the collapse is thought to have been caused by the weight of the water of the flooded river. Lorton Bridge near Cockermouth and Southwaite footbridge in Cockermouth have also collapsed.
Police are now urging members of the public not to use bridges as vantage points to view the flood waters.
Roads across the Workington and Cockermouth area have also been closed. A landslip between Carlisle and Penrith caused the West Coast Main Line from London to Glasgow to close and there is flooding on the line at Lockerbie.
New flood defences have been sucessful so far in Carlisle following a recent £38M investment, as well as in the villages of Llanrwst and Trefrw in north Wales. Environment Agency and local authority staff erected temporary defences for an extra 400 properties in Carlisle last night.
MeteoGroup UK forecaster Julian Mayes called the rainfall a “historical event”. He said: “Primarily, it’s the sheer quantity in the last 36 hours that has caused the flooding. But in November the ground is saturated. The rain can’t get into the soil, it just runs off. That means rivers rise very quickly and suddenly.”
Environment minister Hilary Benn has called the situation “very serious”.
He said water defences in Cockermouth had been improved in the late 1990s, but it was now facing record levels of water. More recent defences had held up, he said.
“In November the ground is saturated. The rain can’t get into the soil, it just runs off.”
MeteoGroup UK forecaster Julian Mayes
“Clearly we are going to have to look in the light of what has occurred to look at what can be done,” he added. “But I think it is important to emphasise the quite exceptional nature of the rainfall we have seen in a very short space of time in Cumbria.”
Flooding was also reported in Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland, where 30 roads closed in “treacherous” conditions.
In mid- and north Wales, roads were closed and train services disrupted, and a brief power cut in Anglesey affected 2,000 homes.
A further 100mm of rain is expected over the north west by early Friday, with further unsettled weather and severe gales predicted for Cumbria, western parts of Scotland and north Wales. Police said water levels in Cockermouth centre had reached more than 2.5m.