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Communities wrecked by floods fear forecast of more heavy rain

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: November 24, 2012

  • An abandoned forklift is half submerged in the sodden fields of Avonvale Rugby Club in Bathford, Bath

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One man died and scores more had to be rescued as the West was battered by a second wave of high winds and heavy rain.

And after Thursday night’s storm turned to tragedy in Somerset, householders spent a calmer period yesterday watching river levels across the region.

Forecasters warned there will be more in store today and tomorrow with more than an inch of rain predicted yet again for most parts of the West, with serious weather warnings in place for large swathes of Dorset, Somerset, Bristol, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire.

Yesterday, rescuers told how they battled in vain to save a man trapped in a 4x4 which was swept off a ford in Chew Stoke and 200 yards down a small stream which had turned into a raging torrent on Thursday evening.

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The man who died after becoming trapped in his car in floodwater is believed to have been visiting a relative when his Mitsubishi Shogun was completely submerged, wedged under a small wooden bridge at Rectory Fields, in Chew Stoke, Somerset, at 8.50pm.

Fire crews, police and search and rescue teams attended the scene following another night of torrential downpours.

The elderly man was recovered from the water but died of a cardiac arrest on the way to the Bristol Royal Infirmary.

The car was spotted by a local resident, who is thought to have known the man, and phoned the emergency services.

Villagers were in shock today following the news of the death. The ford is known to be dangerous following heavy rain and locals said that last night’s incident was the second time in 24 hours in which a 4x4 had got into trouble crossing the ford.

Rescuers, who used boats, waders and divers in the search for the car, described conditions last night as “gruelling”.

Grandmother Cynthia Troup, who has lived in Chew Stoke for 38 years, said she did not believe the man was local to the village but had been visiting a relative.

“We all go across it, but as locals we don’t go over it when it’s too deep, we know not to,” she said.

“It often, on a very wet day, will be too deep. We treat it with respect, but certainly would never drive through it when it was like this.

“I’m pretty sure it was not somebody local, because they would have known. I’ve heard it was a relative of somebody local. We feel so sorry. It’s a real trauma that will take a long time to get over.”

Petra Lowe, 43, said it was another resident in Chew Stoke who had spotted the car wedged under the bridge and called the emergency services.

“Somebody in the village was out with their son and realised the car was stuck,” she said.

“I don’t think that at the time they realised there was anyone in the car, and then they realised there was and they alerted emergency services.

“Due to the bridge, they couldn’t get out of the car; however the car was fixed, they couldn’t actually get out.

“We live just up around the corner and could hear an awful lot of commotion. He was alive when he got out of the car, I think, but by the time he got to hospital he’d died.

“I have the feeling, by the way everybody is, that whoever found him knew who he was.”

Residents of the small, close-knit community said while the ford is prone to flooding they had not seen such bad conditions since the late 1970s or early 1980s.

David Smith, 76, lives next to the ford and said it took just 20 minutes for the flooding to go from being “fairly benign” to the top of his 4ft wall.

“This is the first time we’ve experienced this kind of flooding. My garage has been flooded twice in 48 hours and we’re 4ft above the road-line,” he said.

“The river has three entry points into the road and they sort of come together and cause quite substantial flooding.

“The speed of the water was quite horrendous, it really was, I’ve seen nothing like it. It shoots under that gully and cascades into the roadway here.

“It’s very rapid, because the water comes in from three directions. It’s quite dramatic really.”

Mr Smith, who has lived in the village for 22 years, said that the incident was the second of its kind in 24 hours.

“About 24 hours ago, a Land Rover came past here and I flagged him down and told him he ought not to try and cross the ford, but he did and he was swept away in the middle of the ford,” he said.

“Fortunately, his vehicle was caught by one of the bollards on the road and he was able to climb out of the window on to the roof.

“We tied a rope around him, from my garden, just in case he was swept away, and sort of secured him until the fire brigade arrived about 20 minutes later. It was a crazy, crazy thing to do.”

Search-and-rescue teams worked in the dark and cold to try and locate the car but said the conditions were “gruelling” and it was near-impossible to get into the water.

Duncan Massey, of Avon and Somerset Search and Rescue, said of the man who died: “It was quite difficult trying to find and locate him.

“We knew where the car was in the water but we couldn’t access it. He was out of the vehicle, but we never actually found the car.

“The fire and rescue service were here with boats and waders and swimming people just trying to find where he was and rescue him as best we could.

“The water now would be up to my waist, so access was terrible, the water was like a ranging torrent.

“It was nearly impossible to get in the water, it was very, very deep, very swift flowing and dark of course.

“It was gruelling, absolutely gruelling, it was cold, wet and it’s the middle of November.”

In Bath, residents living around Upper Camden Place hailed a ‘miracle’ after a three-tonne boulder became dislodged from the steep hill and crashed down as part of a landslip, damaging cars on the road below – it is believed no one was hurt in the landslip.

“I was woken by a huge rumbling crashing sound, which I was very puzzled about,” said Bob Williams, whose house backs onto Upper Camden Place. “I looked out of the window, but it was too dark to see anything, then the police knocked on our door to let us know what had happened.”

Gary Lock was not so lucky. He said: “My car was parked near and suffered some damage when the rocks fell. I heard the noise, and came out to investigate. Then I decided to move my car in case any more rocks fell. We were very lucky that our house was not damaged and it is so lucky that no one was hurt.”

Police were alerted and were on the scene within minutes.

Mr Williams said: “I was worried about the house, especially as I have a four-year-old.

“This is a well used road and it is so lucky that no one was walking there when it happened.”

A structural engineer from Bath and North East Somerset Council was called to the scene and estimated that the boulder weighed around three tonnes.

Floods continued to take hold right across the region, with the River Avon in north and west Wiltshire and the rivers on the Somerset Levels particularly high.

Bradford-on-Avon’s historic town bridge was impassable for long periods during the day, and surface water on country roads, particularly around the Avon Vale north of Chippenham, and the Chew Valley in north Somerset, left villages cut off. Where flood water wasn’t a problem, fallen trees were – the A361 at Farleigh Hungerford, on the Wiltshire-Somerset border, was closed by a fallen tree for most of yesterday, while roads across Gloucestershire, where high winds caused havoc, were affected by trees.

For the latest information on flood warnings and alerts in the region, click on the Environment Agency panel below.

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  • Rosearm  |  November 24 2012, 3:13PM

    What does that bloke at Keynsham think he's doing for God sake? What would happen if he got into difficulty and had to be rescued.

  • Bert_Hindle  |  November 24 2012, 10:14AM

    @wheelie-bin: That does seem like a completely pointless task, doesn't it? :D Where was he hoping to sweep the water to?

    |   3
  • BV_BV  |  November 24 2012, 10:01AM

    He should use that abandoned forklift which looks remarkably like a small JCB digger

    |   9
  • wheelie_bin  |  November 24 2012, 8:55AM

    "Mervyn Scott tries to clear flood water at Keynsham football club" - he'll be there a while

    |   8