04/01/2014 02:39 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 08:17 GMT

UK Weather: Britain Faces New Storm Battering

Storms, high tides and gale-force winds have left a trail of devastation around the UK, with warnings that conditions are set to worsen over the weekend.

Hundreds of homes have been flooded from Cornwall to Scotland, with miles of coastline battered and roads and fields across the country left under water.

Residents in Chiswell and Portland in Weymouth, Dorset were evacuated ahead of high tide last night, while around 100 people living in Aberystwyth, Dyfed, were advised to move to higher ground, with many taking shelter in rest centres.

People across the UK, from Devon to Cumbria and Sussex, protected their homes with sand bags and flood gates as the waters rose around them.

In London the Thames Barrier was closed at 1am as a precaution to protect the capital against flooding, the Environment Agency (EA) said, and is expected to reopen at about 4am.

This morning there were four severe flood warnings in place - meaning a danger to life - for Gloucestershire and Dorset, with a further 96 flood warnings and 222 flood alerts.

There are also delays at the Port of Dover because of weather conditions, while the Highways Agency said the M48 Severn Crossing has been re-opened in both directions to all vehicles.

As the New Year storms continued, the government came under fire yesterday as an estimated 1,700 jobs to be axed at the EA, with 550 staff from the floods team to go.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said front-line flood defences would be protected after the EA's chief executive Paul Leinster said risk maintenance would be "impacted" and work on flood warnings would "have to be resized".

High tides and large waves flooded streets in Looe in Cornwall and Salcombe and Kingsbridge in Devon, but the RNLI said it was not as bad as it had expected, the BBC said.

Emergency services rescued four people from a flooded farm in Llanbedr near Barmouth, north west Wales, the River Severn burst its banks in Gloucestershire and a pregnant woman was rescued after 30 properties were flooded in Cardigan, mid-Wales.

An 18-year-old man is missing in Devon after he went out to take photographs of the bad weather.

Harry Martin was last seen at 2pm on Thursday walking towards a coastal path after he left his home in Membland, Newton Ferres.

Police, coastguard and a lifeboat have all been involved in the search.

Two people have already died in the storms. A 27-year-old man from Surrey was found on Porthleven Sands beach in Cornwall after he was swept out to sea on New Year's Eve night, and a woman died after being rescued from the sea in Croyde Bay, north Devon.

The ferocious weather has left widespread damage. In Aberystwyth debris was strewn across the promenade, rail lines in north Wales were left buckled by the power of the sea and a road collapsed in Amroth, Pembrokeshire.

Officials around the country have pleaded with people to keep away as dozens put their life at risk by going coastal areas to watch as the storm brought waves up to 40ft high crashing on to land.

A man and child were almost swept away by a huge wave at Mullion Cove in Cornwall as they peered over the sea wall to watch the raging sea, and elsewhere in Cornwall vehicles driving on a coastal road were swamped and almost washed away by a tidal surge.

Mark Pilcher, from the EA, said: "I know people like to go out and look at the drama of the waves but please, keep away from this water."

Mr Paterson chaired a meeting of the government's emergencies committee Cobra to discuss the weather situation, and said that 130,000 homes had been protected by 2,170 miles of coastal defences.

Further bad weather is expected today, forecasters said, with rain giving way to snow in southern Scotland and northern England.

Heavy rain is likely to affect southern parts of England this morning, clearing eastwards towards the afternoon, the Met Office said.

Up to 30mm (1.1in) of rain could fall in just six hours, and there are more warnings of flooding and travel disruption.