Heavy rain floods England

Hundreds stranded; emergency services pushed into rescue work

Heavy rain floods England

 flooded streets of Cockermouth, in Cumbria, north-west England,

One police officer was missing and feared dead after a bridge was swept away.

British soldiers conducted house-to-house searches for those trapped by floods as deep as 2.5 metres. Troops also dropped down on lines from air force helicopters, breaking through rooftops to pluck people to safety.

Emergency services said more than 200 people were rescued in the hardest-hit town, Cockermouth. At least 960 homes were flooded after a day of unprecedented rain, police in the northern region of Cumbria said. Heavy rain and gales also brought widespread flooding to Ireland, as more than 3 feet of water shut down the centre of the country’s second-largest city, Cork, and more than a dozen towns and villages.

Cockermouth, a market town 530 kilometres northwest of London, lies at the junction of the Cocker and Derwent rivers and is known for being the birthplace of poet William Wordsworth.

“It has devastated the town,’’ said Michael Dunn, manager of the Bitter End pub in Cockermouth. “There is a lot of properties in Main Street, private shops, that have had their windows smashed in by the force of the water and by debris in the water.” The rain stopped and floodwaters began to ease Friday, giving rescuers a chance to reach trapped people by boat. Debris swirled around the boats as they pulled people to safety.

Forecasters said the rainfall was unprecedented.

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn told the BBC that flood defences were meant to withstand a one-in-100-years flood — but could not cope with the volume of water.

“What we dealt with last night was probably more like one-in-a-1,000, so even the very best defenses, if you have such quantities of rain in such a short space of time, can be over-topped,’’ Benn said. The Police urged people not to travel, as many roads were impassible. Two bridges collapsed in the town of Workington, including a main one over the River Derwent. Cumbria Police said Constable Bill Barker, 45, was swept into the water as he stood on the bridge. The force said on Friday that rescuers searching for him had found a body.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown that he had spoken to Cumbria Chief Constable Craig Mackey to offer help.

“Our thoughts are with all those who have been impacted by these floods,’’ Brown said.

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