Britain is braced for the worst as a combination of high tides, heavy rains and strong winds are expected to bring yet more severe flooding to parts of the country.
“Exceptional” weather is expected across the whole of the UK and Northern Ireland, with a high risk of flooding expected around this morning’s high tides posing a significant risk to coastal towns and villages.
The Environment Agency (EA) has issued 21 of the most serious severe flood warnings in place, issued when there is a threat to life or property, affecting the South West, Gloucestershire and Wales.
Homes in Newport were evacuated last last night because of the risk of flooding as Wales prepared for the highest tides in 17 years, ITV News said.
Residents at the Lighthouse Park Estate were taken to a nearby leisure centre as a precaution, and coastguards have been warned of a storm bringing 70mph winds.
People living in Ilfracombe were joined by emergency services during the night as they gathered sand from beaches to build flood defences.
The EA has also issued 188 flood warnings across England and Wales and a further 233 flood alerts.
Heavy rain and winds gusting up to 60mph are due to hit western areas, prompting fears of widespread disruption.
The bad weather is compounded by high tides this morning, with the risk of flooding expected for between two and four hours either side of high water.
Waves of more than 30ft (10m) are expected to hit Devon and Cornwall, the BBC said, with authorities declaring in a “major incident” and warning people to stay away from shorelines, where there are 14 severe flood warnings and 60 flood warnings.
In Belfast, Northern Ireland police have been delivering sandbags and have issued a warning to people in the Sydenham and Docks areas to prepare for potential flooding and the possibility of evacuation.
Emergency services will be under increased pressure with a Fire Brigades Union strike today between 6.30 and 8.30am.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, who chaired a meeting of the Government’s Cobra emergencies committee, yesterday warned energy network companies to be prepared, following complaints it took too long to restore electricity to the thousands of homes left without power in the wake of severe weather over Christmas.
In a statement on its website, the EA said: “The flood risk will extend along the UK coastline from north-west England, through Wales and south-west and southern England. Areas particularly at risk include the Isles of Scilly, the north and south coasts of Devon and Cornwall, Dorset and the coastline of Wales.”
The storms have already claimed at least two lives. The body of a 27-year-old man from Surrey was found on Porthleven Sands beach in Cornwall. He had been swept out to sea on New Year’s Eve night having gone for a paddle with friends at nearby Loe Bar.
In a second tragedy on Tuesday, a woman died after being swept out to sea at the popular beauty spot Croyde Bay in north Devon. The woman, who was believed to be on holiday with her family, was rescued from the sea and airlifted to hospital before being confirmed dead by doctors.
Elsewhere, in Dorset a search was carried out for a man who is believed to have fallen into the River Stour, near Iford Bridge in Christchurch.
There has been a brief respite from the most severe weather, but heavy rain is expected in western areas of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as a low pressure system moves in from the Atlantic.
Pete Fox, head of strategy at the Environment Agency, urged people to be vigilant and stay away from the coast.
He said: “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.”
Bosses at energy network companies are due to face questions from MPs when Parliament resumes next week.
They were criticised over the length of time it took to restore power to homes affected by storms over Christmas, while Prime Minister David Cameron was confronted by one angry resident in Yalding, Kent, during a visit to see the flood damage last week.
More than 150,000 homes were cut off after strong winds, torrential rain and flooding caused damage to power networks but today Mr Paterson said he expected the power companies to do their best to prepare for the latest storm.
Speaking on Sky News following the Cobra meeting in London, he said: “We are looking to have a combination of exceptional rain, wind and a surge in sea and high tides and so there are nearly 50 warnings put out around the whole of the west coast and south coast.
“We had a range of ministers from right across government attending the meeting, who will be working very closely with local councils, power companies, utility and transport companies, making sure that all of those organisations are absolutely prepared for the bad weather that is coming.”
The AA, which has attended 1,500 call-outs from those stranded due to floods since December 23, said some drivers were failing to heed warnings.
Darron Burness, head of the AA’s flood rescue team, said: “Our patrols have seen it all in that time - including people ignoring road closure signs, blindly following their sat-nav or other drivers into deep water and 4x4 drivers naively thinking their car has amphibious qualities - and time and again they hear the same excuses that the driver didn’t think the floods were very deep or that their car could deal with it.”
In Scotland heavy rain and gusts of up to 60mph could sweep across the country today, bringing further disruption after days of wet weather.
High tides and a storm surge have increased the risk of flooding in the Firth of Clyde, according to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa).
A tidal surge is expected around lunchtime, particularly around the Firth of Clyde, Solway Firth and Ayrshire, the Scottish Government said.
Sepa has issued a flood alert for west central Scotland, warning that high water during early afternoon will be “exceptionally high” with large waves likely.
It has also issued eight flood alerts and 17 flood warnings for other parts of Scotland.
The Met Office has issued yellow “be aware” warnings of heavy rains and strong winds for the Highlands and Western Isles, Strathclyde, Central, Tayside, Fife, south-west Scotland and Lothian and Borders.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said: “The Environment Agency and local authorities have teams on the ground monitoring the situation as it emerges.
“Due to the continuing extreme weather, I will be chairing another Cobra (emergencies committee) meeting today to ensure that everything that can be done to help affected areas is being done.
“With a number of severe flood warnings still in place I urge everyone to follow the advice from the Environment Agency and police and to take every precaution.”
In the South East, Yalding in Kent was deluged again overnight but not on the same scale as over Christmas, according to local reports.
The Little Venice caravan park was reportedly flooded again and around six nearby properties affected.
Jenny Donovan, from the Environment Agency, told BBC Radio Kent: “Unfortunately there was flooding again in Yalding last night from the River Beult.
“We had people from the Environment Agency working closely with professional partners, the local authorities and the emergency services.
“It’s going to be important for the next 24 to 48 hours that people remain vigilant. If we see the high ends of the rain that is forecast over the next 24 to 48 hours, we will see an increase in flood risk across the whole of the county.”
In the South East, 20 flood warnings and 90 flood alerts were in place at 8am. There were no severe flood warnings.
Sussex Police have warned of problems as more rain falls, adding to already swollen rivers.
Winds of up to 65mph along the coast, combined with high tides and low pressure, were likely to create storm surges, the force said.
The port of Dover in Kent was operating normally.
Areas of Devon and Cornwall have seen high tides and flooding in streets, though the situation so far has been “better than expected”.
Tom Mansell, RNLI divisional operations manager and flood rescue team leader, said: “To be honest, this morning was slightly better than expected.
“There has been flooding in places like Looe, Kingsbridge and Salcombe but it is not as bad as we had been expecting.”
Mr Mansell said two crews arrived in Taunton, Somerset, at midnight and have been on standby in the Barnstaple area of Devon since 3am.
“This is coastal flooding that we are expecting,” he said. “Such areas are reasonably used to this but the danger is really where people are going down to have a look.
“They don’t understand how dangerous the sea can be. We would say please, please keep away from this water.”
Mr Mansell said a man in Cornwall had a “very lucky escape” when his car was swept away as he wave-watched.
“People think they are in a strong metal box but moving water on tarmac becomes very buoyant,” he said.
David Bryan, mayor of Looe in Cornwall, said locals had been expecting the worst.
“If the right combinations occur, flooding does happen here in Looe,” Mr Bryan said. “Most people would have been expecting it.
“People were getting sandbags and wood boards, doing everything they could to keep the water out.
“In a way, people are used to it here.”
Residents of Iford Bridge Home Park in Dorset were evacuated yesterday afternoon, while those at nearby Beaulieu Gardens Home Park were told to consider leaving “as soon as possible” by police.
The Environment Agency said the flood peak passed through Throop in Dorset at 5am today and had been expected at Iford and Christchurch at 7am.
“Levels at Iford will remain high throughout the morning due to very high tides,” it said.
The westbound carriageway of the A30 in Launceston, Cornwall, has been closed following a serious road accident this morning, police said.
A spokesman for Devon and Cornwall Police said: “The collision took place near to Two Bridges, Launceston, at around 8.10am and involved a single vehicle.
“A car left the road and collided with trees. The driver has sustained serious injuries.
“It is thought that the road may be closed for some time and drivers are urged to avoid the area if at all possible.”
Devon and Cornwall fire officer Paul Walker tweeted: “Crews are attending a serious RTC on the A30 near Launceston! Challenging driving conditions.”
One man in Penzance, Cornwall, has been evacuated from his home after it was “severely affected” by floods.
Councillor Geoff Brown, portfolio holder for homes and communities at Cornwall Council, said: “There has been no loss of life from flooding.
“There was one gentleman evacuated from a property in Penzance. That is the only residential property that has been severely affected.
“We were very well prepared and the residents were well prepared and informed as well.
“There was a property in St Ives where the flood gate was washed away by the force of the sea breaking over the wall.”
Cllr Brown said Cornwall had not experienced the three factors that cause problems - high tides, the surge and strong winds - at the same time.
“The winds came later on and that has saved a significant amount of flooding,” he said.
“We are now watching very carefully what happens during the day.
“The next high tide is between 6.30 and 7pm and we are expecting the next depression across the Atlantic to hit on Sunday.
“It looks as though that could cause more problems than we’ve seen today.
“My advice is to not venture near the coast in the next few days.”
Some roads in Gloucestershire are now under flood waters, police said.
A spokeswoman for Gloucestershire Police said: “The Severn Bore has now gone through Elmore and Minsterworth with reports that the water has overtopped the defences in some parts.
“The tidal surge will follow and is due to reach Gloucester around 11am today. All agencies are asking people to stay away from the water.”
The A48 is closed between Oakle Street and Elton Corner, while Northway Lane is Tewkesbury is “impassable” due to flooding, she added.
There are reports that Goose Lane is Rodley is also impassable.
Gloucestershire Highways area manager Jason Humm said: “We’ve had a fair amount of rainfall on saturated ground so there has been some surface water on the highways and we would urge drivers to continue to take extra care travelling around the county.
“We’ve had additional gangs on overnight and into this morning and the workforce will prioritise any flooding issues that may arise.
“Rising river levels have caused some issues with roads locally and we are anticipating further issues at the A417 in Maisemore.
“Gangs are fully prepared to react immediately if needed and we would encourage people to use alternative routes.”
Rest centres for concerned residents have been opened in Tewkesbury and the Forest of Dean.