Hundreds of residents were evacuated from their homes after more than a month’s rain in 56 hours turned rivers into raging torrents – with at least one person feared drowned.
Storm Christoph brought a trail of destruction to north-west England and Wales yesterday, and worse could be yet to come as across the country major rivers are still rising and may overflow.
Scenes of devastation included the 18th-century Llanerch Bridge over the River Clwyd being dramatically swept away in North Wales.
Boris Johnson flew into a flood-hit area of Greater Manchester in an RAF helicopter after emergency services worked through the night elsewhere to protect a factory and warehouse involved in making a Covid-19 vaccine.
The Prime Minister spoke to some of the thousands of residents forced out of their homes in Didsbury after the storm swept across the country leaving thousands of people having to be evacuated amid major flooding.
Mr Johnson, who warned yesterday that ‘there will be more to come’, made a quick dash to Didsbury just hours after the worst of the storm hit.
It comes after he was criticised in March 2020 for taking three weeks to visit flood-hit towns in the Midlands, months after being heckled in November 2019 when visiting deluged areas of the North.
More than 170 flood warnings remained in place across England were still in place as late as 8pm, with one ‘severe’ warning – meaning danger to life – issued for the River Dee at Farndon.
Households in parts of Cheshire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside woke up yesterday in temporary accommodation after having to leave their homes.
Fire services used inflatable boats to pull people through flooded streets. Fifty residents at a retirement village in Northwich, Cheshire, were evacuated.
Dozens of pensioners – some suffering from dementia – were left without power and heating. Lesley Davenport, whose 87-year-old grandmother and 94-year-old grandfather live at Weaver Court, said: ‘They are going to be really cold – that is the main concern.’
Teachers at Tattenhall Park primary school, near Chester, had to spend the night there after becoming trapped by floodwater.
Anna Comish, who teaches Year 5, said: ‘We tried to leave but the brook burst at about 3.30pm and we were just cut off.’ Meanwhile, a sinkhole opened up leading to the collapse of two Victorian terrace house frontages in Manchester.
And in Cardiff, emergency services spent yesterday afternoon searching for a body spotted in the swollen River Taff.
Fire crews rescue care home residents in Northwich from rising flood water on a chaotic afternoon yesterday, pictured
Gabrielle Burns-Smith surveys the scene in her flooded home on the outskirts of Lymm in Cheshire yesterday morning
Firefighters evacuate the residents of a care home in Northwich, Cheshire, yesterday after the River Weaver burst its banks
Flooding hit parts of Hereford yesterday afternoon after Storm Christoph brought heavy rain and the River Wye burst its banks
A windsurfer in Whittlesey makes the most of the flooded fields caused by Storm Christoph yesterday afternoon
Houses partially collapsed yesterday one day after a nearby sink hole swallowed a car in Abbey Hey, Greater Manchester
Prime Minister Boris Johnson walks with an Environment Agency worker during a visit to flood-hit Didsbury yesterday morning
Parks and sports fields were underwater yesterday after heavy rainfall from Storm Christoph in Didsbury, Greater Manchester
Flooding at the Swan with Two Nicks pub near Dunham Massey in the wake of Storm Christoph, pictured left and right
The River Ouse in York floods as rain and recent melting snow raise river levels in North Yorkshire yesterday
Llanerch Bridge between Trefnant and Tremeirchion collapsed yesterday after severe weather brought by Storm Christoph
A Derbyshire police car is seen abandoned at Darley Abbey in Derby after the road was closed due to the heavy rain
A cars drives through a flooded Hazel Brook in Bristol yesterday following severe weather brought by Storm Christoph
Ironbridge under siege AGAIN: Shropshire town faces severe flooding for second year in a row
Businesses in Ironbridge – which has nearly succumbed to River Severn over the last two years – are braced for flooding again over the next week.
Water levels are extremely high again in the picturesque Shropshire town as well as across the county and are predicted to increase over the next few days. It has already surged above the 3.40m (11.2ft) level at Buildwas this morning, meaning flooding is on the way.
Flood barriers installed on the River Severn near Ironbridge
Down the road in Shrewsbury it is predicted to keep rising over the next three days – affecting homes and agricultural land – and will peak just short of the 5m (16.4ft) record. But the deluge is set to remain at about 4.3m (14.1ft) for a few days until the weather gives in.
Donna Byard, who runs Ironbridge Vintage Corner, said it is looking like a repeat of last year. She said: ‘Looking like a repeat of last year just hope not as bad. Very few have had chance to spend flood grant due to delays with Covid so not better off than last year.’
Nigel Byard, who runs Ironbridge Antiques Arts and Craft Centre, said: ‘That moment when you’re looking at the potential flood risk knowing that anything over 6m on the Buildwas gauge reading we’re f***ed again.’
He later added: ‘Just been to install the flood barrier but this is looking a bit better, its now saying to peak at 5.8m and not 6m. Keeping it open as last time it changed last minute and shot up to way over what they originally said.
‘This is not what we wanted again but hopefully if it stays like this then to should be half way up the ramp at the bottom doors and not on the shop floor, but last time it changed last minute so just on standby watching and waiting.’
Last year the country watched in horror as water levels crept up and nearly overcame the temporary barriers installed in Ironbridge. This year the Environment Agency re-erected the defences along the main road with more than 500 yards of temporary barriers are going up at about 1.8m (6ft) high.
Conservative MP for Telford Lucy Allan said: ‘Take care everybody – we have been working on flood resilience measures in Ironbridge since last year’s floods.’
As people whose homes were flooded begin their clean-up today, the levels of major rivers such as the Wye, Severn and Ouse have yet to reach their peak.
The highest flows on sections of the Severn in Gloucestershire are not likely until tomorrow – and flood warnings remain in force until then.
Last night, three danger-to-life flood warnings remained on rivers in Cheshire, and there were 190 warnings overall – meaning flooding is expected – across England and Wales.
There was also a coronavirus vaccine scare after a factory that helps to produce the Oxford jab was saved from flooding.
Teams worked through the night on Wednesday to pump water away from the Wockhardt factory in Wrexham, North Wales, which fills vials with the vaccine before shipping them off to be used by the NHS.
Council leader Mark Pritchard told Sky News: ‘They were under pressure. They had serious concerns that their warehouse, logistically, could be flooded.’
The First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, tweeted: ‘Massive thank you to everyone who worked so hard to protect supplies of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.’
In a statement, Wockhardt confirmed: ‘The site is now secure and operating as normal.’
Other incidents yesterday included homes evacuated in Loftus, North Yorkshire, and police having to be rescued when their patrol car became stranded in floodwater from the River Derwent at Darley Abbey, Derby.
The River Dee in North Wales reached 53.8ft – higher than the previous record of 53.6ft in 2011 – sparking an evacuation of 30 residents from the village of Bangor-on-Dee.
One of the people whose homes were devastated by Storm Christoph was Gabrielle Burns-Smith of Lymm, Cheshire. The 44-year-old said she and partner James Dainty, 38, desperately cleared grates and drains but eventually the waters breached their house.
She said: ‘By 3pm the water outside was shin-deep and by 4pm it was knee-deep. We were seriously worrying.’ The couple and their dog Tag are now living upstairs while they wait for the water to subside.
Rainfall through Tuesday, Wednesday and until 8am yesterday reached a maximum of 7.4ins at Aberllefenni, Powys, compared to an average of 6.4ins for the whole of January.
The wettest place in England over the same 56-hour period was Bolton, Greater Manchester, where there was six inches against an average January rainfall of 4.03ins.
Craig Woolhouse, flood duty manager at the Environment Agency, said: ‘Our thoughts are with anyone who has been affected, and our teams are working round the clock, deploying temporary flood defences and closing flood barriers, and so far they have protected over 9,000 properties.’
As well as the heavy rain, there was also snow. Leek in Staffordshire received 2.4ins through Wednesday night into yesterday, while Pennine areas had about 2ins.
A combination of cold days with showers and frosty nights lies ahead over the weekend.
Met Office spokesman Oli Claydon also warned: ‘Unsettled conditions are due to return next week with milder air bringing more wind and rain.’
Ken Emerson, 76, clears a snow drift at a property in Lanehead, County Durham, yesterday morning
South Wales Police received a call shortly after 9am yesterday after an apparent sighting of a body in the River Taff in Cardiff
A man looks out over the flood defences at a business premises as the River Ouse in York floods yesterday afternoon
Water is pumped out from a car park during a flood after the River Weaver burst banks in Northwich, Cheshire, yesterday
The River Ouse in York floods as rain and recent melting snow raise river levels yesterday morning
Emergency devices respond to a major flooding incident in the town of Skewen near Neath in South Wales yesterday
A no entry sign is seen on the swollen River Ouse in York, pictured yesterday, which had flooded following severe weather
A snowplough struggles to clear the A9 at Tomatin in the Highlands yesterday as hundreds of vehicles were trapped in snow drifts
Residents of a care home are evacuated after the River Weaver bursts its banks in Northwich, Cheshire, yesterday afternoon
Residents of a care home are evacuated after the River Weaver bursts its banks in Northwich, Cheshire, yesterday afternoon
A delivery van gets stuck in flood water at Acton Bridge in Cheshire yesterday after Storm Christoph brought heavy rain
A woman places sandbags outside a shop during a flood after the River Weaver burst banks in Northwich, Cheshire, yesterday
Nearly 50 vulnerable OAPs evacuated by boat
An urgent rescue operation was underway today to evacuate nearly 50 vulnerable elderly people by boat after their retirement village was flooded under five feet of water.
Dozens of care home residents are rescued from Weaver Court Care Home in Northwich, Cheshire, this afternoon
Emergency services rushed to Weaver Court in Northwich, Cheshire, after it was left without any electricity or heating due to heavy flooding this morning. The vulnerable residents, some suffering from dementia, were trapped after their homes were submerged in more than 5ft (1.5m) of water.
Multiple fire engines rushed to the scene yesterday and a rescue boat was deployed to safely evacuate the pensioners. Around 50 residents and staff were believed to be stuck in the building. Lesley Davenport, whose 87-year-old grandma and 94-year-old granddad live at Weaver Court, said they were all ‘het up’ as they wait for their loved ones to be rescued.
She said: ‘They are going to be really cold – that is the main concern. There was a lady wading through the water, waist deep, just to get to the building. We are all het up – nothing seems to be getting done. I’ve been out here for a hour and a half and they just seem to be having meeting after meeting. The houseboats were evacuated yesterday and that’s when they should have evacuated Weaver Court.’
A spokesman at First Port, the development’s management company, said: ‘The safety of our residents is our utmost priority. As the development currently has no electricity, we are working with the council to safely evacuate residents to a nearby hotel today. We will do all we can to support our residents, and to get the development habitable as quickly as possible.’
Neighbourhood policing inspector for Northwich Jason Murray added: ‘A decision was made earlier this morning with ourselves and our emergency service partners that it was necessary to evacuate the residents of Weaver Court for their own safety and principally because the electricity to the premises has had to be isolated because of rising water levels.’ People were taken to a leisure centre before being moved on to alternative accommodation, Inspector Murray said.
Mr Johnson’s warning that there may be more of the same to come was shared by Environment Secretary George Eustice, who chaired a Cobra meeting on Thursday in response to the chaos.
He said: ‘I want to echo the Prime Minister’s thanks to the Environment Agency and emergency services for the huge amount of work they’ve done to protect over 26,000 homes and properties from flooding, keeping families and communities safe.
‘However, the danger has not passed. The water levels remain high and there is the risk of possible further flooding next week so everyone needs to remain vigilant, follow the advice and sign up for flood alerts.
‘This Government is committed to tackling the risk of flooding and we will continue to push on with our £5.2 billion programme of investment in flood and coastal defences to protect 336,000 properties over the next five years.’
The Prime Minister also suggested that a major tree-planting programme could help protect against flooding in the long term.
On the visit to Didsbury, he said: ‘One idea that everybody in the Environment Agency talks about, and I believe in absolutely passionately, is planting trees on the higher ground to help absorb some of that rainfall, to help mitigate the effects of flooding.
‘This Government has a very ambitious tree-planting programme, but, in my view, we’re not going fast enough.
‘As the spring comes and we come out of the pandemic, we’re going to want to see a lot done to build in long-term resilience against flooding and against climate change, and planting trees is a big part of that.’
Mr Johnson also defended the Government’s record on funding flood defences.
‘A huge amount has been done here in Greater Manchester, another £60 million has been put in to protecting the Greater Manchester area,’ he said.
‘You can see the defences that we have in place to protect people’s homes and people’s lives.
‘But, be in no doubt, everybody who visits a flood area, anybody who has been through a flood knows the huge psychological, emotional and financial cost of flooding to people.’
But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said there had been a repeated pattern of floods followed by an ‘inadequate response’.
He told reporters in London: ‘We need to have a long-lasting solution to this, not promises that then aren’t fulfilled.’
Councils were left scrambling to evacuate people and shore up flood defences, made all the trickier by the need to keep confirmed cases of Covid-19 away from other people fleeing their homes.
Manchester City Council set up a Covid-safe emergency rest centre at Wythenshawe Forum for those displaced.
Others were allowed to stay with friends and families, with the council ensuring them no legal action will be taken if they need to stay somewhere else due to the flood risk.
Meanwhile, a grandfather was taken to hospital after accidentally swallowing sewage water when his house was flooded.
Chris Spencer and his wife Marlene, both 70, pictured right, were forced to flee their home in Chester on Wednesday night with the help of their family after dirty water began seeping in amid the bad weather caused by Storm Christoph. But Chris was hospitalised, pictured left, after swallowing some of the water
Homeowner watches floodwater gush into her property through door
A woman has described watching her home flood as Storm Christoph brought heavy rain and snow.
Gabrielle Burns-Smith, 44, said by 12.30pm yesterday she and partner James Dainty, 38, were concerned about water outside their home on Warrington Lane in Lymm, Cheshire.
The couple cleared grates and drains to move some of the water but levels continued to rise, Ms Burns-Smith said.
She said: ‘By 3pm yesterday the water outside was shin deep and by 4pm it was knee deep and we were seriously worrying that the house was going to be breached. Then it was. We’re still in the house, we can’t go anywhere because we can’t get the car out, the water is just too deep. Both living rooms are flooded.
‘At 1am I sat and just watched the water coming through the back door. It started to snow and the guys from the council delivered sandbags to us in the snow.’
Ms Burns-Smith said she, Mr Dainty and their dog Tag were staying in the upstairs of the property.
She added: ‘We’ve moved everything we can upstairs. Some of the furniture we haven’t been able to bring upstairs so that’s just gone. We’ve got a freezer full of food but it’s not switched on. All the plug sockets downstairs are under water so we’ve switched everything off down there.’
Ms Burns-Smith outside her flooded home in Lymm today
All four houses on the lane had been affected by the flooding, Ms Burns-Smith said. She said they were waiting for the water to subside, but did not know how long that would take.
She added: ‘We are surrounded by fields full of water and there are hills at the back of us so we’re just waiting for all the water to come down from them. We managed to get a couple of hours sleep but you almost don’t want to go to sleep because you don’t know what you’ll wake up to.’
Chris Spencer and his wife Marlene, both 70, were forced to flee their home in Chester on Wednesday night with the help of their family after dirty water began seeping in amid the bad weather caused by Storm Christoph.
Granddaughter Alex Roberts, who went to help her grandparents after receiving a call, said: ‘As he was trying to get out he fell over into the water and hurt his back, then he swallowed sewage water.
‘With that, he had hypothermia as well because he was so cold so he had to go to hospital and while we were trying to take him out of the water I swallowed some sewage water as well so I had to get antibiotics from the hospital too.’
Ms Roberts, 20, said she and her family, who live nearby, went round to help after receiving a call from her grandmother who was ‘crying her eyes out’ some time after 10pm.
‘It was just literal knee-deep water surrounding the whole of the houses,’ Ms Roberts said. ‘We ran in and we then figured out it was all sewage water so you can imagine the smell.
‘Within five minutes it was at least three feet deep.’
Mr Spencer stayed at the Countess of Chester hospital overnight before being discharged at around 7am.
He and his wife are now staying with Ms Roberts and her parents.
Ms Roberts said the pair are struggling to come to terms with what happened, and added: ‘They’re not really speaking much, they’re absolutely shook.
‘My nan is very upset, she keeps crying. It’s really hard to see them like that.’
The couple, neither of whom have had Covid vaccinations, are worried they will not receive any insurance money because there is a brook near their home.
When the property was previously flooded eight years ago, Ms Roberts said, they did not receive a payout, so she has set up a crowdfunding page in an attempt to help them.
Among the items lost or damaged this time are brand new sofas, family photos and records which they have collected ‘for years and years’, while the sewage made it into their new conservatory and even their oven.
‘Pretty much everything you can think of has been destroyed,’ Ms Roberts said.
As of Thursday evening, the fundraiser – which had an initial target of £2,500 – had reached £3,500.
‘I am overwhelmed by the response,’ Ms Roberts said.
‘When I put the target at £2,500 I was thinking no-one’s ever going to give that, it’s just a target.
‘I’m getting anonymous people donating £100, a local restaurant donated £250. It’s just like, wow, people are really wanting to help and I never thought people would do that for us.’