Soldiers Evacuate Homes As Tadcaster Bridge Collapses

Soldiers have been sent in to evacuate homes around a storm-battered bridge after it started to collapse, prompting fears of flooding and a possible gas explosion.

A severe flood warning was issued for the bridge over the River Wharfe in Tadcaster, North Yorkshire, last night, with the Environment Agency (EA) warning locals to leave immediately because of a "significant risk to life".

The 18th-century bridge started to collapse into the swollen river at around 5pm, with a crowd gathering as masonry fell into the swirling torrent.

In York, police condemned thieves who looted homes submerged in dirty water. North Yorkshire Police's Acting Superintendent Mark Grange said: "It is extremely disappointing to see victims of the floods being targeted in this way.

"It is impossible to comprehend why anyone would want to bring further suffering to those who are already in a very vulnerable situation."

Meanwhile flood-ravaged areas of northern England were told to brace themselves for further damage as Storm Frank started to batter the British Isles with torrential rain and gale-force winds.

An EA spokesman said: "Significant flooding is expected in the Tadcaster area. Those in this area are advised to evacuate immediately.

"The situation is serious and there is a significant risk to life. Please follow the advice of the emergency services and officials in the area."

People watching ran as a wave headed towards the bank and a strong smell of gas came from pipes left visible in the gaping hole.

Emergency services arrived quickly before soldiers were deployed to evacuate people from homes and helped police set up a 200m cordon, saying it was "due to fears of a gas explosion".

The cordon included a large section of the town, including many of the shops on the western side, along the main street - the A659 which leads down to the bridge.

The loss of the bridge meant Tadcaster was split in two with people having to travel out to the A64 bypass to get to other side of town, including a lengthy detour to Bilborough Top to turn round on the dual carriageway.

Nigel Adams, the Conservative MP for Selby and Ainsty, said he had been on the bridge with Communities Secretary Greg Clark earlier yesterday.

He said: "It was a few hours before it collapsed. We did go on to have a look at some of the damage. In hindsight, we shouldn't have been on it. But I thought it was important that I showed the Secretary of State the severity of the damage and the impact.

The EA had earlier warned of the potential for further significant flooding, especially in Cumbria, while floods minister Rory Stewart said a potentially "very bad situation" lay ahead.

In many areas the ground is still saturated from previous downpours and river levels remain at record highs.

Waters are receding, but across the North, more than 6,700 homes have flooded in the past week.

Elland Bridge, between Huddersfield and Halifax in West Yorkshire, has also been closed after the carriageway crumbled and collapsed after the floods.

York's Foss barrier was now up and running, the EA said, after soldiers were drafted in to help with repairs. Emergency work was carried out on the defence system after high river levels flooded the pump room and hit the power system.

An army Chinook helicopter was used to drop portable power generators on to the barrier's roof on Monday and severe flood warnings that had been in place for York since Boxing Day were lifted yesterday after four of eight pumps started working again.

There are currently four severe flood warnings, 46 flood warnings and 81 flood alerts in place across England and Wales.

Scotland was also bracing itself with Met Office amber "be prepared" warnings issued for today in all mainland regions outside the Highlands. There were also 36 flood warnings and 14 flood alerts in place.

A red weather warning was issued for the Isle of Man overnight, with up to 100mm (4ins) of rain expected on high ground.

Large parts of Ireland were also braced for another winter battering, weeks after Storm Desmond caused serious flooding in many areas.