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More flood fears as storms continue
A huge length of railway track is exposed and left hanging after the sea wall collapsed in Dawlish, where high tides and strong winds have created havoc in the Devonshire town disrupting road and rail networks and damaging property.
Severe weather is set to continue battering large parts of Britain over coming days, with the threat of further flooding and disruption from heavy rain and gales.
The South West of England and South Wales have taken the brunt of the latest storms, which have affected many areas of the UK since Christmas.
The weather has left thousands of homes without power, transport networks in chaos and has forced people to leave their homes - with wind speeds reaching more than 90mph.
The Environment Agency (EA) had six severe flood warnings in place - meaning a danger to life - in south-west England.
The EA was warning there was a "high risk" of coastal flooding in Dorset, Devon and of further river flooding on the Somerset Levels and Moors.
On the Levels, which has been badly affected by flooding since Christmas, police used a helicopter to advise the occupants of more than 150 properties at Fordgate and Northmoor to leave their homes because of flooding.
Met Office forecasters were warning of further severe weather to come.
Another band of heavy rain is due to sweep across southern Britain tomorrow into Friday.
A separate area of low pressure is then expected to bring more rain and very strong winds on Saturday.
Andy Page, Met Office chief meteorologist, said: "The unsettled weather will continue over the coming days with heavy rain across the southern half of Britain on Thursday evening into Friday, and that will be quickly followed by another storm moving in early on Saturday.
"This will bring the risk of flooding and damaging winds bringing down trees to cause disruption to travel and power networks."
In response to the crisis, Prime Minister David Cameron announced an extra £100 million would be spent tackling the aftermath of the floods and there were "no restrictions" on the help available to stricken communities.
After chairing a meeting of Whitehall's emergency committee Cobra he said: "My sympathy is with everyone affected by the ongoing storms which are causing misery to communities and businesses across the country.
"With power outages, more flooding and more bad weather forecast, I have chaired a Cobra (meeting) this afternoon to ensure that everything that can be done to get stricken communities moving is being done: there are no restrictions on help."
In Dawlish, between Exeter and Cornwall, a section of seawall under the coastal railway line had collapsed and two people had to be rescued from a car.
Mr Cameron said: "I have seen the shocking pictures of the destroyed train line in Dawlish and I am determined that while it is out of action, the public get a proper alternative service and a solution is found to fix it, as soon as possible. The Government will continue to hold emergency Cobra meetings to ensure these problems are sorted out.
"In Somerset, the Environment Agency continues to pump three million tonnes of water a day off the Levels alongside high-velocity pumps provided by the fire and rescue service. But no amount of pumping will solve the current problem completely because the land is so saturated, so dredging will start as soon as the waters have receded enough for it to be safe to do so.
"We need a long-term solution, so earlier today I announced a further £100 million to repair and maintain those flood defences which have taken such a battering, while protecting 165,000 homes in recent weeks, in addition to a record £2.4 billion being spent by this Government."
But Labour leader Ed Miliband said: "Many of those affected feel the Government's response has been slow and that more could have been done sooner."
Residents were evacuated from 30 flooded houses in Kingsand, Cornwall, and up to 35 homes affected in Looe, with residents advised to stay away from the seafront amid fears of huge waves.
Devon and Cornwall Police warned residents to stay away from coastal areas as it dealt with a large number of calls relating to road debris, damage to property and flooding.
Cornwall Council said fire crews were dealing with flood reports and problems in Polkerris, Fowey and Looe.
The A390 at Lostwithiel was closed, with fire crews also dealing with fallen trees at Poughill, near Bude, Seaton, and the road between Constantine and Penryn.
The pier at St Mawes has also been closed and several schools were shut across Cornwall as a result of power problems.
Devon County Council staff were working flat-out to deal with the aftermath of the storms, having received more than 300 calls overnight.
Exmouth, Sidmouth and Seaton seafronts were closed, and the high tides flooded properties in Exmouth, Lympstone, Starcross and Topsham, the authority said.
On the seafront at Torcross homes were evacuated after the high tide smashed the fronts of four properties, forcing nine people to leave their homes.
One resident had a front bay window completely destroyed by the weather.
South Hams District Council has provided 12 tonnes of sandbags and 15 sheets of plywood to board up those homes damaged by the waves.
And shingle thrown on to the nearby Slapton Line beach by the storms had forced the closure of the road to vehicles.
The Hoe in Plymouth had also experienced large waves and damage to some properties.
There were also warnings of potential problems on minor roads and the possibility of landslips in coastal areas.
Stuart Hughes, Devon County Council's cabinet member for highway management and flood prevention, said: "These are some of the most horrendous conditions I can remember, and the combination of heavy rain and strong winds is causing disruption across the county."
The EA said that since Friday around 328 homes have been flooded while more than 122,600 have been protected, the EA said.
Since early December flood schemes have defended more than 1.2 million homes and businesses, and protected nearly 2,500 square kilometres of farmland across England.
John Curtin, head of incident management, said: "We're preparing for successive bands of heavy rain forecast into the weekend, groundwater and river levels are already high following the wettest January on record for England.
"With further river and coastal flooding expected this week we continue to have teams working around the clock to protect homes and communities and we are mobilising staff from across the Environment Agency to provide support in affected areas."
The RNLI warned of the danger of large and potentially hazardous waves along the coast.
Coastal safety officer Will Stephens said: " Rough seas and extreme weather might look exciting, but getting too close can be risky.
"So respect the water and, in particular, avoid exposed places where big waves could sweep you off your feet."
Commuters have been warned of "continued significant disruption" to train services in the South West.
Network Rail has estimated that damage caused to the rail infrastructure at Dawlish will take "at least" six weeks to rectify.
A spokesman for First Great Western said this estimate was "depending on the results of further inspection and any additional damage that may be caused by this weekend's forthcoming adverse weather".
"Normal train services will not be able to run between Exeter St Davids and Plymouth while this work takes place," he added.
He advised customers not to travel west of Exeter St Davids until the end of service today, with long distance, mainline services terminating at the station.
Local services in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset will be working to amended timetables.
The spokesman added: "The damage has affected the railway in the immediate Dawlish vicinity, and the signalling systems serving a wider geographic area.
"Network Rail engineers are working around the clock to make repairs where weather conditions allow."
Limited services have resumed between Plymouth and Penzance, with rail replacements available from tomorrow.
Rail replacement services will not be provided until the end of service today, as road condition are too poor for them to safely operate, the First Great Western spokesman said.