25/11/2012 03:39 GMT | Updated 25/11/2012 05:32 GMT

UK Weather: Falling Tree Kills Woman And Injures Two As Floods And High Winds Batter South West

A woman has died and two others were seriously injured after a tree fell on them as floods and high winds battered the South West.

The three were injured when a large tree collapsed on to Western Way in Exeter at 11.50pm.

The woman was trapped under the tree and taken to hospital where she later died, Devon and Cornwall Police said.

uk weather

Wind and rain has caused chaos across England with rivers bursting their banks and trees being blown over

People were forced to flee their homes last night as flood water and torrential rain caused "serious threats to life" in villages in Cornwall.

Special rest centres were set up in the worst-hit villages, though Cornwall Council said these were all later stood down as people returned home or went elsewhere as flood threats stabilised.

Severe flood warnings - the highest alert possible - have been issued by the Environment Agency (EA) for Lostwithiel, Helston, Polperro and Perranporth in Cornwall, where rivers threatening to burst their banks. More than 150 flood warnings were also in place across the country, and 222 flood alerts, the majority in the South West.

Roads have also been closed across the region as highways became impassable because of rain and debris.

The M5 was shut between junction 25 and 26, Devon and Cornwall Police said.

Emergency services, rescue crews and EA bosses worked throughout the night to help stricken communities and spread messages of safety to people following four days of uninterrupted rainfall.

More than 230 staff from Cornwall Council were out working across the county to help those hit by severe weather and flooding, and Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service has taken more than 350 calls since yesterday morning, the council said.

Fire and rescue pumps were sent to Perranporth to help prevent further flooding after the river broke its banks.

It was reported that people were left stranded in their homes in Newlyn in Cornwall, while roads in Bovey Tracey in Devon were turned into rivers as water poured down them.

The village of Millbrook was reportedly under 5ft of water and BBC reporter Alison Johns, who lives in the village, said 40 houses were evacuated last night.

She said told the BBC that torrents of muddy water had been cascading down the road all yesterday afternoon, into the village and people's homes.

Ms Johns said the village's sluice gates had been opened and water was transferred into a gulley, allowing water levels to subside.

Devon and Cornwall Assistant Chief Constable Sharon Taylor, who is co-ordinating the emergency responses throughout the night, told the BBC the situation was beginning to stabilise in Plymouth and Cornwall.

She said Devon was being buffeted by winds of up to 60mph and between 40mm and 60mm of rain.

Ms Taylor said: "Cornwall was hit in several places and we did have to have some partial evacuation and move people to recovery centres, but fortunately we have been able to move them all back, with the exception of a couple of elderly and vulnerable people who are being looked after overnight."

She warned people not to travel today unless absolutely necessary, saying: "We have particularly found that people are still trying to get home and make their way to their properties, but of course some of this water is now contaminated with sewage, and of course that could cause people health problems if they continue to ignore the advice."

Ms Taylor said the M5 was closed southbound between junctions 25 and 26, and that there are major problems due to flooding on the A38.

Inspector Andrew Webber of Devon and Cornwall Police said the woman who died was 21 and had been living in a small tent sheltered against the wall at the roadside when the tree fell on it, and that she died almost immediately.

Mr Webber told Sky News: "It was a very large oak tree that had been there for very many years.

"Obviously we've had lots of heavy weather, it's been raining an awful lot, and the tree for whatever reason came down.

"It's taken a wall with it when it came down and then on top of that the tent was underneath and the tree has fallen onto the tent.

"There are two males involved with minor injuries and obviously a poor lady of 21 who received fatal injuries at the time."

He said officers were on the scene almost immediately, but there was very little that could be done for the woman and that her injuries were fatal "almost instantaneously".

Mr Webber said that while towns and villages across the region had been cut off, most of the flood water was receding. He warned people to take extreme care because of standing water on roads and low-lying flood waters.

He said that the heavy weather had now cleared Devon and Cornwall, and that emergency services didn't expect any further serious weather for the next 12 hours.

Mr Webber said Devon and Cornwall Police had been "really stretched" and they had had to keep staff on to deal with the situation, as had the other emergency services.

There were also reports of properties being flooded in Kennford, in Devon, while the BBC said Exmouth in Devon was cut off after the A376 was closed by police.

The RNLI's South West flood rescue team was last night called to assist the emergency services in Exeter, and was put on standby to respond to Helston and Polperro.

National Rail said the severe weather had caused a number of disruptions to services across the region.

Trains were cancelled between Exeter St Davids and Yeovil Junction because of a landslip at Honiton and flooding near Axminster in Devon, and replacement buses were cancelled because of severe flooding on local roads.

The route is expected to reopen tomorrow, subject to no further damage.

A landslip near Dawlish has also caused delays of up to an hour on rail services between Newton Abbot and Exeter St Davids, National Rail said.

David Owens, duty director for Cornwall Council, earlier told the BBC that the rest centres were all stood down after residents had left.

He said: "We did have a couple of residents in Mevagissey where we had some 25 properties flooded. We didn't have any attendance in Millbrook where we had approximately 40 properties flooded. Those situations are really improving."

Mr Owens said there had been more than 400 staff from the council, police, fire services and the Environment Agency working during the night, and numbers were reduced as weather began to clear from the west.