Emergency meeting as gales and floods hit Britain

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is expected to chair a meeting of the Government’s Cobra emergencies committee today in response to the flooding which has torn down power lines, closed roads and flooded homes.

The Minister said he has been chairing meetings throughout the day to ensure that the Environment Agency and local councils “are on the ground and offering all possible support to their communities”.

He was due to chair a Cabinet Office Briefing Room meeting in London this morning.

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Mr Paterson said: “With a number of flood alerts for the South East for tomorrow, including several areas which have previously been flooded, I urge everyone in affected areas to sign up to EA flood warnings and follow the advice issued.”

It comes as emergency services continue to search for people missing in ferocious weather in the first storms of 2014. Roads have been closed, while around 300 properties in the South and East of England have no power.

A 27-year-old man is feared dead in Cornwall after he was swept out to sea while celebrating on a beach with friends. Yesterday, a woman died in the surf in north Devon.

Police across the country are searching for several people who have not been seen since last night.

Visitors to coastal areas have been warned to stay out of the sea, while those inland have been braced for localised flooding.

The A36 is closed in both directions for eight miles between Totton and Salisbury in Hampshire, also due to flooding.

The Environment Agency put out nearly 300 weather warnings covering every region of England and Wales. There are dozens of flood warnings in place, mostly in the South West of England, while forecasters have predicted strong winds, heavy rain and further flooding in the coming days.

Craig Woolhouse, the Environment Agency’s head of flood incident management, warned: “Coastal paths and promenades could be highly dangerous as there is an increased risk of being swept out to sea. People are warned to stay away from the shoreline.”

Matt Dobson, a senior forecaster with MeteoGroup, said there would be a brief respite today – but warned that further heavy rain and gale-force winds are on the way.

He said: “Another deep area of very low pressure is coming in from the Atlantic, which will hit Northern Ireland and Scotland, and there will be severe gales in places.”

Devon and Cornwall Police, together with the Coastguard, have appealed for people not to enter the sea during the bad weather.