24/12/2012 14:33 GMT

More Flood Weather Warnings Across UK As Environment Agency Predicts Wet Christmas

Heavy showers could bring more flooding woes for parts of rain-battered Britain this Christmas, as the country braces itself for one of its wettest years in history.

Hundreds of homes and businesses have been swamped with floodwaters, from the southern-most parts of Cornwall to the Highlands of Scotland as winter rains fall across a land that is saturated to bursting point.

The Environment Agency (EA) said widespread showers meant many places remain on flood alert despite persistent rain expected to ease over Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

David Jordan, the EA's director of operations, said: "Although the rain is set to ease a little in the coming days, the ground is still very wet and river levels remain high, so we would ask people to keep up to date with the latest warnings and stay prepared for flooding."

The EA has 154 flood warnings, urging people to take immediate action, in place across England and Wales and a further 258 flood alerts. There are 19 flood warnings in place in Scotland.

The EA says more than 470 properties have flooded since Wednesday, while Floodline revealed it has received 18,000 calls during the recent wet weather.

The rain continued to cause travel disruption today heaping misery on millions of Christmas travellers on road and rail networks. A series of accidents on major highways also added to the travel chaos.

Three men were killed and three other people taken to hospital after a two-car crash on the A68 in Midlothian, Scotland, early this morning.

A number of other key routes including the A1(M) in Hertfordshire, the M6 in Cumbria and Staffordshire and the M5 near Bristol were also struck by weather-related delays.

Rail commuters using the West Coast line faced reduced services while operators CrossCountry, East Midlands Trains, First Great Western (FGW) and First TransPennine Express were all affected by flooding.

Despite the persistent rain easing-off over the coming hours, heavy showers are still expected overnight with the Met Office issuing yellow weather warnings for central Scotland and much of southern England and Wales.

Meteogroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said showers were likely to continue across most of the UK tomorrow, providing little respite for the flood-hit south west of England.

Gareth Harvey, a MeteoGroup forecaster, said: "The rain will become confined to North East and north Scotland overnight, but a fresh band of showers will move into western parts of the UK and the south during Christmas Day.

"They will not be persistent but could be heavy and will not help the flooding issues."

Harvey added that most parts of the UK will experience showers at some point during the day with the unsettled weather continuing into Boxing Day.

The EA earlier today removed a severe flood warning - meaning there is "danger to life" - for the River Cober at Helston in west Cornwall, a town that has already seen residents evacuated from their homes.

Officials said the rivers Severn, Trent, Avon and Thames are at most risk of flooding.

Around 245 properties in Devon and Cornwall were affected by floodwater over the weekend and although a number of people were evacuated, most have now returned home.

Police today released video footage of the dramatic rescue of a woman who had been washed away by floodwater after becoming trapped with her family in a 4x4.

The woman had alerted the emergency services to say she was stuck in floodwater at Umberleigh, near Barnstaple, before she was washed away by the water and was found clinging to a tree branch.

Devon and Cornwall Police urged the public to remain vigilant.

A spokesman said: "Although the heaviest rainfall has now eased, the public are advised to remain vigilant as potentially more heavy showers are expected during Christmas Day - especially in the evening - and into Boxing Day.

"River levels remain high although they are generally now receding, however this could easily change as more rain falls across the region over the coming days."

Environment Minister Richard Benyon said the response to the floods had been impressive but could always be improved from experience.

He told BBC Radio 4's The World At One: "We all have to realise that whatever we spend and whatever we do, there are 5.2m homes in this country that are at some sort of flood risk.

"There are going to be houses flooded in the future, we have just got to be better at warning people, we have got to be smarter at how we build defences (and) what defences we build."

Britain is now set for one of its wettest years ever, the Met Office said.

The UK's average rainfall in 2012, excluding December, is 1,202mm - placing it 13th in the list of wettest years since records began in 1910.

Forecasters said December's deluge of rain meant that this year was now likely to finish among the country's highest rainfall totals on record.

The year 2000 remains the UK's wettest year, with an average rainfall of 1,337.3mm.

Check out HuffPost UK weather for the latest news