The railway line in Dawlish is hanging in mid-air, as Jon Kay reports
Parts of Britain are being hit by a powerful storm which has washed away a stretch of railway line and left thousands of homes without electricity.
The Environment Agency says around 328 homes have been flooded since Friday evening – with more heavy rain and strong winds forecast into the weekend.
A section of the sea wall in Dawlish, Devon, collapsed and left the main railway line suspended in mid-air.
David Cameron has announced an extra £100m for flood works.
At Prime Minister’s Questions he pledged £75m for repairs over the next year, £10m for urgent work in Somerset – where several rivers have flooded – and £15m for maintenance.
Mr Cameron has chaired his first meeting of the Cobra emergency committee this year to discuss the floods, following widespread criticism of Environment Secretary Owen Paterson’s handling of the crisis.
After the meeting he said he would “ensure that everything that can be done to get stricken communities moving is being done: there are no restrictions on help”.
‘Force of nature’
On the Somerset Levels, residents of more than 150 homes at Fordgate and Northmoor are being advised to leave their properties as flood defences are in danger of being overwhelmed.
Forecasters say there will be an “improving picture” on Wednesday evening. But there will be rain moving up from the south coast on Thursday morning which will spread to south-west England in late morning. About 20-30mm of rain is expected throughout the day.
More heavy rain and gales are forecast for Friday night into Saturday.
Dawlish resident Robert Parker said the storm was “like the end of the world”.
He said: “It was like an earthquake. I’ve never experienced anything like it. I’ve been in some terrible storms in the North Sea, but last night was just a force of nature.”
Western Power Distribution said about 44,000 customers had been affected by power cuts since Tuesday afternoon and 9,680 were still without power across the South West. In Cornwall, 7,800 are cut off.
The company said around 800 staff were working to restore supplies.
Earlier, First Great Western said all lines between Exeter St Davids and Penzance were closed because of the collapsed track at Dawlish and adverse weather conditions.
Patrick Hallgate from Network Rail, who assessed the damage at Dawlish, said it could take between four and six weeks to fix the line, which is the main rail link between south Devon and Cornwall.
“This is probably the biggest structural engineering feat we’ve faced in the South West for at least the last decade,” he said.
First Great Western said some branch lines in Devon and Cornwall were now operating.
The Environment Agency has eight severe flood warnings in place, meaning “danger to life”, covering much of the south coast from Cornwall to Dorset and two areas of Somerset. It has also issued about 60 flood warnings and more than 200 flood alerts.
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency has issued four flood warnings and several flood alerts.
The Met Office It has issued an amber severe weather warning – meaning “be prepared” – for wind for south-west England and south Wales until 19:00 GMT on Wednesday and of rain until 23:00 on Saturday.
In other developments:
• Twenty people were evacuated from Kingsand in Cornwall because their homes were being damaged by stones washed ashore and coming through their windows
• Devon and Cornwall Police received 300 emergency calls overnight. About 100 trees were reported blown over
• In Brighton, a significant section of the West Pier skeleton collapsed in high winds and stormy seas
• Homes were evacuated on the seafront in Torcross, Devon, after waves smashed the front of four buildings
• Portsmouth Historic Dockyard was closed because high winds were causing roof tiles to blow around
• Southern said trains were suspended between Bexhill and Hastings after high tides and winds caused flooding at Bexhill
• South West Trains said a speed restriction of 50mph would be imposed on some routes between 10:00 and 19:00 GMT on Wednesday
• Winds of up to 92mph (148km/h) were reported in the Isles of Scilly
• Labour MP for Exeter, Ben Bradshaw, said damage to the railway infrastructure could “absolutely devastate” the economies of Devon and Cornwall
• Coastal areas of Devon suffered severe damage
• Looe quay, in Cornwall, is awash with sea water
• In Wales, a number of main roads were closed by fallen trees or flooding
Firefighters have also been called out to deal with dangerous structures. There have been two incidents in the Tenby area of Pembrokeshire with roofing being blown off buildings.