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Ironbridge flooding: Emergency evacuation as defences ‘overwhelmed’

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Media captionHelicopter footage shows the scale of flooding in Ironbridge

An emergency evacuation is taking place as rising waters on the River Severn “overwhelmed” a town’s flood defences.

A kink in the barriers at Ironbridge, Shropshire, meant water seeped underneath, resulting in police evacuating part of the town.

West Mercia Police said the defences “appear to be buckling”, adding “virtually everyone” in the Wharfage area had agreed to leave.

Residents were earlier evacuated from their homes in Bewdley, Worcestershire.

Severe flood warnings for the River Severn have been issued for Ironbridge and Shrewsbury following days of heavy rain.

Flooding has also seen:

  • Train lines remain closed out of Shrewsbury railway station due to high water levels under the Severn Railway Bridge and trains are only running out of the station towards Crewe and Chester
  • River levels continue to rise in Worcester, where they are expected to peak overnight
  • Levels being monitored at Upton-upon-Severn and settlements below that, including Tewkesbury
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Image caption Police are evacuating residents in Wharfage, Ironbridge

“There is a bit of water that’s getting underneath and the barriers have become ineffective,” Chris Bainger, from the Environment Agency (EA) said.

“At the moment, the pumps are actually dealing with it but over time that level is going to rise, hopefully gradually, behind there and it’s going to get up to that 1.8m level.”

Ch Supt Tom Harding said: “They can see the barrier itself is flexing – so the barrier hasn’t actually failed, it’s still intact, it’s still in place but it’s not performing as we would want it to.”

“In areas it appears that it is buckling,” he added.

The force said parts of the barrier had shifted across the width of the road and were now resting against properties.

Structural engineers are on site, Ch Supt Harding said, but in the meantime he has taken “the practical worst case scenario” in ordering an emergency evacuation.

He said police will ensure residents are “put up” and officers will be in the area through the night and over the coming days.

Councillor Shaun Davies, the leader of Telford and Wrekin Council, said people should leave their homes and “stay away” from Ironbridge.

“This is a developing situation but it has significantly developed and increased in terms of its dangerousness with regards to the barriers collapsing.”

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Image caption The force of the river caused defences in Ironbridge to buckle

Just before midnight on Tuesday, 38 properties in Beales Corner, Bewdley, either flooded or were at risk. Many were rescued, but some are refusing leave.

Sally Yardley, 64, left her ground floor flat which overlooks the river.

“The water was rising really quickly… I don’t think we ever predicted it would be this bad,” she said.

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Media captionShrewsbury home floods for the second time in eight days

Dave Throup, EA manager for Herefordshire and Worcestershire, said: “The river levels are exceptionally high here at Bewdley and they haven’t stopped yet.

“The river is still rising at a much slower rate and we’re expecting a peak here probably this afternoon and then that’s working its way down the catchment to Worcester.”

The river’s peak is now heading down stream towards Worcester, where some homes have been flooded for 10 days in the wake of Storm Dennis.

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Media captionFlood water pours over the top of Bewdley’s barriers

The barriers near Mrs Yardley’s home in Beales Corner which breached are not the main defences in the town. These remain in place in Severnside, although people are advised to avoid the area.

Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service is going house-to-house in the area with a dingy and helping people from their homes.

It is not yet clear whether the flood levels will top Bewdley’s highest ever recorded levels in 2000, however water is expected to keep rising throughout the day, by up to 20cm.

Justin Leitch was rescued on a dinghy from his home in Bewdley, where he has lived since August.

“It’s unprecedented what’s happened over the last week, 10 days, what can you do. People are trying their best,” he said.

Image caption Justin Leitch said the water at his home, in Bewdley, is over knee height

Sarah, a mum-of-four who also lives in Beales Corner, said her family will be staying put despite a foot of water in her cellar.

“Everything is floating, we’ve lost some stuff down there and we’ve had to turn the gas off.

“If I thought there was any real danger we would go but at the moment we’re staying put.”

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Image caption Residents in Bewdley started leaving their homes around midnight

BBC Radio Hereford and Worcester’s James Pearson said the flood barriers overtopped last night, starting as a trickle then turning into a torrent.

He said the flood water was about the same level as the river and it had not flooded while the temporary barriers were there.

The levels were 14cm off the all time high from 2000 and they were expected to keep rising steadily throughout the day to about that level, he added.

River Severn levels are expected to remain high over the next few days due to “unsettled” weather, the EA said, adding it was “closely monitoring the situation”.

At Prime Minister’s Questions earlier, Boris Johnson was criticised for not visiting the areas affected by flooding.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the government “refuses to acknowledge the scale of the problem” accusing Mr Johnson of being a “part time prime minister” who is only “keen to pose for cameras during an election”.

The prime minister said he was “very proud of the response the government has mounted” to the floods.

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