22/12/2012 08:46 GMT | Updated 22/12/2012 08:47 GMT

Christmas Getaway Chaos As Four Flood Warnings Issued, Homes, Shops Under Water (PICTURES)

Rail passengers and motorists might not get home for the festive season, as the great Christmas getaway was stalled by continued wet weather and floods hit homes and shops.

Four severe flood warnings - which means there is a danger to life - were issued for south-west England.

The town of Braunton in north Devon has been effectively cut off, with homes and shops under water after the River Caen burst its banks.


A youth wearing a Christmas hat looks out over a flooded street in the city centre of York, England

Surface water began to build as heavy rain battered the region overnight and residents in the town woke to find Caen Street and the A361 under water.

Business owners on Caen Street in Braunton have been surveying the damage to their properties and say they are concerned there could be more to come.

Hours after the initial flood warning the water level on the main street remains waist high and the landlord of The London Inn said everyone is just waiting and hoping the water level drops as the high tide passes.

Mark Ridge, 37, moved into the pub just seven months ago with his wife and two children and spent £90,000 renovating it before they opened.

He said the flood has been devastating for his family right before Christmas.

"We were hoping this weekend would be our bumper weekend, to carry us through January, February, trade wise, but it's just killed it now," Mr Ridge said.

"You just can't put words to it how devastated you are, you work hard all year round and this happens three days before Christmas.

"It's not just the lack of trade and finances coming in, but having to replace everything as well.

"We spent in the region of £90,000 seven months ago refurbishing the pub when we moved in, now we're going to have to spend another £90,000 to re-do it again.

"Obviously it has upset everyone, but we will pull together and pull through."

Mr Ridge said he got a knock at the door at six o'clock this morning by a neighbour saying the water was up by the kerb.

"Within 15-20 minutes it was up four foot, right the way through the building with Caen Street and South Street completely blocked off," he said.

"We are still about three foot under water. It has taken the whole pub out, the bar, fridges, cookers, upholstery, carpets, the cellar is under water, the stock is all gone. We're not going to be open for a long time now.

"We're just sort of waiting to get things sorted when the water subsides. There is just nothing we can do, the water is still three and a half foot and it's just pointless, you can't get to anything, there is raw sewage out there in the water, you just can't do anything.

"We are obviously worried about what may still be to come, no-body knows if more rain is going to affect us or not. It's sort of staying at a level at the moment.

"There might be a bit of rain this afternoon, but looks like it may slide past us to the east, so we might be OK."


Vehicles make their way through flood water on Calmore Road in Totton, Hampshire

Braunton resident Elma Blackmore, 67, said the wet weather had left the town isolated.

"You can't get in or out of Braunton because the main road is flooded, it is blocked from Chivenor as well, no traffic can go through," she said.

"Nobody can get in or out at the moment. You can get to the edge of the village, but not into the shopping centre. Braunton is absolutely flooded and it is cut off at the moment."

"All the (emergency) services are out because there is another high tide at 1 o'clock, which people are concerned about.

"My husband is part of St John Ambulance and he said the water has gone to some of the lower streets, because the centre of the village is lower than sea level the water all backs up through the drains.

"Apparently it all came down Church Street and has just literally run all the way down through the village. The ground is just so water logged the rain has got nowhere to go."

Liz Spear, chairman of Braunton Parish Council, said a river was running through the centre of the town.

Devon and Cornwall Police said "numerous properties" were affected.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: "Exceptional weather conditions are having a serious impact on the transport network at what is already a difficult time of year.

"The Highways Agency and Network Rail have emergency staff working round the clock to keep motorways and rail tracks open where it is safe to do so while train operators are working hard to keep services running.

"We urge people travelling through the most affected areas to plan ahead and check the latest travel information. We will continue to ensure everything possible is being done to help people get to where they need to be for Christmas."

First Great Western advised rail passengers whose travel is not essential to avoid any journeys west of Taunton in Somerset because of flooding and landslips.

The train operator said road vehicles were being used to transport passengers between Taunton, Exeter and Plymouth, but the service was hampered by flooded roads.

The Highways Agency said there were a handful of flooding incidents but they were not causing delays on the motorway network.

A spokesman said: "We have some localised issues but things are still running freely. We are continuing to monitor the situation and we'll take action where necessary."

The Environment Agency (EA) issued two severe flood warnings for Braunton, and one each for Heston and Lostwithiel, both in Cornwall.

flood scotland

Men walk through flood water in Cupar, Scotland, after the River Eden burst its banks after continued heavy rain

The agency has also issued 108 flood warnings - where flooding is expected - across the whole of England and Wales, and 313 flood alerts, meaning flooding is possible.

Mrs Spear said newly built flood defences were overwhelmed by the volume of water that hit Braunton.

"It's really bad, we had flooding seven years ago, but it was nothing like this," she said.

"It's disappointing really because the EA have just spent over £1 million on new flood defence schemes, two flood defence schemes, this year, but they've been totally overwhelmed, absolutely.

"We've had rain on and off all summer so everywhere is saturated and now we're having our normal heavy rain that we get in the winter and the sponge is already soaked up, it can't take anymore."

Mrs Spear, who has lived in Braunton for 45 years, added: "The EA were sending out flood warnings at about five o'clock this morning, we all had warnings and I have been down there two or three times now.

"South Street is partially flooded which has never been flooded before and it's like a river going down there and that is residential."

In Scotland, 16 flood warnings - mostly in Tayside - and 13 flood warnings were issued by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.

The Met Office issued amber weather warnings, which mean "be prepared", for heavy rain and strong winds across south-west England, Yorkshire and Humber, Wales, central Scotland and the Grampians until tomorrow morning.

Tom Tobler, a forecaster with MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said "heavy and persistent" rain would affect almost every part of the UK today, after heavy rain swept the country overnight.

He said: "The South West has seen the worst of it as the rain moved in there during yesterday evening.

"Plymouth has recorded 49mm of rain in the last 12 hours, and across the South West and South Wales there has been 15mm to 30mm fairly widely.

"Cornwall may have another 15mm of rain to come, and it wouldn't take that much to create extra problems. The rain is pretty bad news for that part of the country, but it is going to be a wet day everywhere, really."

Paul Mustow, head of flood incident management at the EA, said: "With four severe flood warnings in force and further rain forecast, it is vital that communities remain flood aware.

"Flooding has a devastating impact on peoples' lives and our teams have been working throughout the night to reduce the risk of flooding. Our thoughts are with people who have been affected and advice on what to do to stay safe in a flood and clearing up afterwards can be found on our website.

"If you're going away for the holidays, give yourself extra time to make your journey, check your route before travelling and avoid driving through flood water.

"If you're leaving your property empty over Christmas, check the risk of flooding before you leave, move valuable items to safety and ask neighbours to keep an eye on your home."

Cornwall Council said around 117 properties were affected by flooding since the early hours of this morning, including 40 in Millbrook.

Cornwall Fire and Rescue were pumping 4,500 litres of water per minute to reduce the risk of severe flooding in Helston. The town's rest centre was closed after the last two people returned home.

Football League matches at Hartlepool, York, Wycombe and Torquay were all postponed because of waterlogged pitches.