Firefighters rescued campers, police shut roads and rail lines were blocked today as the second named storm of August battered Britain with strong winds and brought a washout end to staycations across the country.
Storm Francis swept in this morning with gusts of 74mph and 1.6 inches of rain already recorded, causing chaos for commuters and holidaymakers – and large waves around the South West including the Bristol Channel.
Two people were feared drowned in the River Taff in Wales, with one believed to have entered the water in Cardiff near the Principality Stadium and another thought to be a capsized canoeist eight miles north in Taffs Well. A woman was also rescued elsewhere in Cardiff at the River Ely in Leckwith following reports of a person in difficulty.
Campers – especially those on the last week of the school holidays – faced the threat of trees being uprooted and power lines downed, with fire crews rescuing nine people staying near a fast-flowing river in South Wales.
Firefighters managed to get to the group in two boats at St Clears in Carmarthenshire after the alarm was raised at 7am today, and also rescued two dogs. Crews also gave medical treatment to one man and evacuated 30 other people from a flooded caravan site in Wiseman’s Bridge, while 12 caravans were also removed from the site.
Homes in Llanelli were flooded by ‘about a foot of water’ while there was further flooding across South Wales, the train line between Neath and Cardiff was flooded and a fallen tree blocked the Caerphilly to Rhymney rail route.
Police said water on roads in the Bryntirion area of Bridgend was knee deep, a car was stranded in flooding at the 15th century Dipping Bridge at Merthyr Mawr, and a tree blocked a main road in Dunmurry, Belfast.
The M48 bridge across the River Severn was closed in both directions, a fallen tree temporarily blocked the A30 in Cornwall, while another stopped trains running between Gunnislake in Cornwall and Plymouth in Devon.
Parts of northern England had to 0.8in (20mm) of rain in just a few hours this morning, with Northern Ireland reporting up to 1.6in (40mm). Several places in England and Wales have seen their highest ever gusts of wind provisionally recorded in August.
Gusts of 74mph were recorded at Lake Vyrnwy in Powys, Wales – the highest August gust in this location since 1994. Aberdaron in the Welsh county of Gwynedd recorded 71mph, the highest since 1996. Gusts of 68mph were recorded at Pembrey Sands, 52mph at Shobdon in Herefordshire, and 49mph at Pershore in Worcestershire.
Met Office chief meteorologist Steve Ramsdale said ‘Storm Francis arrived early on Tuesday morning, bringing another spell of wet and windy weather for the UK over the next few days.
‘Wind speeds this strong are unusual during August and may come as a surprise to people spending time outdoors trying to catch the last few days of summer. A number of severe weather warnings have been issued.’
In Northern Ireland, hundreds of people were today rescued from their homes in County Down after a river burst its banks and left the town looking ‘like a disaster zone.’
Rescuers used a boat to help residents in Newcastle, near the Mourne Mountains, after more than 300 homes were flooded and streets were left under three or four feet of water.
Stormont Assembly member Colin McGrath said: ‘It is like a disaster zone.’
Those living in the Shimna Road area have been battling floodwaters since the river the road is named after overflowed.
Stormont’s Infrastructure Department added: ‘Multi-agency partners are currently on the ground working in partnership responding to the impacts of Storm Francis.
‘Due to the heavy rainfall, the Shimna River has burst its banks in places and there are significant reports of flooding in the Newcastle area.
‘Staff were on the ground from early morning distributing sandbags and providing assistance to property owners.’
Throughout Northern Ireland, the department’s teams continued to clear essential infrastructure to reduce the risk of flooding to homes.
It added: ‘Close monitoring of water levels is ongoing and will continue until the weather warnings have elapsed.’
A number of roads have been closed.
Geoff Simmons, from South Down, took his children to creche on Tuesday morning and had to take a 20-mile detour over the mountains in wild conditions to get home.
He said: ‘Serious rain overnight in Newcastle, County Down. The sea looks angry.’
A warning for heavy rain and wind remains in place for Tuesday until 6am on Wednesday and it is possible this could lead to debris on the road, fallen trees and spray or large waves on coastal routes.
The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service said it was dealing with significant flooding in the Bryansford Avenue area of Newcastle.
‘Our specialist rescue team, flood response teams and local crews are in attendance,’ a statement said. ‘A number of people have been rescued from their homes and the response is ongoing.’
Nationalist SDLP Stormont representative Mr McGrath said up to 300 homes in the town had been affected and some streets were under three or four feet of water.
Fire crews also attended a flooding incident in Maghera to help rescue a number of people trapped in their home.
The emergency service said: ‘We want to reassure the public we are prepared and well-rehearsed in terms of our contingency planning in readiness for the strong possibility of flooding in parts of Northern Ireland across the afternoon and we have redeployed resources accordingly.
‘We are working closely with our colleagues in the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Coastguard and other statutory agencies right across Northern Ireland to assist members of the public.’
The Fairy Glen River in Rostrevor, near Newry in Co Down, has also burst its banks.
It comes after chaotic scenes in London last night, with drivers forced to wade through waterlogged roads as drains struggled to clear the rain fast enough – and other motorists swerved into the path of oncoming traffic.
Severe wind and rain weather warnings have been put in place for much of the UK today, with the storm arriving from the Atlantic overnight and travelling eastwards before reaching the North Sea tomorrow.
An amber warning was issued for strong winds across Wales, the Midlands and into Lincolnshire from 2pm to 10pm today, amid fears over tiles being blown from roofs and possible power cuts and mobile phone outages.
The gusts could cause ‘danger to life’ from flying debris, damage to buildings and disruption to travel services, forecasters said as they also issued a yellow wind warning running for 24 hours from 9am this morning.
The rain is expected to be heaviest in Northern Ireland and south-west Scotland, where up to 3.5in (90mm) could fall – well above the monthly August average of 2.8in (70mm) – bringing a risk of localised flooding.
Carmarthenshire councillor Rob James told BBC Radio Wales’ Breakfast show that there was ‘about a foot of water’ in homes in Llanelli, adding: ‘Drivers need to take care when driving and don’t take any risks.’
Mount Batten in Plymouth and Mace Head in County Galway in western Ireland both had gusts of 51mph overnight, while 30.8mm (1.2in) of rain fell between 5pm and 11pm yesterday in parts of County Kerry.
An Environment Agency recording taken between 11pm yesterday and 7am today logged 65.8mm (2.6in) dropping at White Barrow in Devon.
In the same period, Natural Resources Wales recorded 61.4mm (2.4in) falling at Tavernspite in Carmarthenshire, Wales, while Spite in Glamorganshire saw 56.2mm (2.2in).
There was widespread damage in West Cork after heavy rainfall left roads and properties flooded. There was also flooding in Bantry, including The Square, New Street, Bridge Street and Main Street, damaging almost 50 homes.
Cork County Council said the damage was caused after prolonged intense rainfall on already saturated ground, adding that while flood waters have been cleared, some roads have been damaged and are currently closed.
Downpours in Bandon also caused flooding at Brady’s Lane and Bridge Street, which the council said has been cleared.
The council said that the intense rainfall overwhelmed the system.
Other flooded areas include Dunmanway, Rosscarbery, Connonagh, Clonakilty, Drimoleague, Leap, Ballydehob, Passage West and Youghal. Skibbereen escaped further flooding after it was badly hit by Storm Ellen last week.
Road users have been urged to exercise ‘extreme caution’ while work is carried out to clear the affected routes.
Videos and images posted on social media show extensive flooding across Bantry.
Bantry Bay Rovers posted on Twitter: ‘We are sending our thoughts to everyone impacted by last night’s flooding and our sincere thanks to all of the members of the emergency services and community volunteers who have been working to keep our community safe.’
Electricity firm ESB said power was lost in hundreds of homes and businesses in Cork, Wexford, Limerick and Carlow.
Met Eireann said that it will remain wet across the north and west with further flooding likely.
Meanwhile the Environment Agency issued 17 flood alerts across England, and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency imposed a further ten.
Alex Deakin from the Met Office said it will be ‘wet and windy for large chunks of the UK’.
He added: ‘The bands of rain move into Northern Ireland and stick around, move into Scotland and hang around for most of the day.’
The rain warning – which began at midnight overnight– covers an area in Scotland including the A83 Rest and Be Thankful in Argyll and the railway line south of Stonehaven in Kincardineshire.
A ScotRail train was derailed by a landslide near Stonehaven earlier this month, killing three people and injuring six others.
Nicky Maxey from the Met Office said: ‘Since we began naming storms in 2014, we have never had one in August. Now we have two.’
She added: ‘For Scotland and Northern Ireland, the real worry is for the amount of rain which Storm Francis contains. It’s a low-pressure system being fired across the Atlantic by a jet stream running at 120 knots (138mph). It deepens rapidly as it arrives to a position which is pretty strong for this time of year.’
The Met Office said some communities could be cut off by flooded roads and travel services may be badly hit, with parts of Scotland particularly under threat.
ScotRail said it was advising customers to check their journey on its app or website before they travel, while CalMac ferry routes on Scotland’s West Coast were placed on a warning of a ‘heightened risk of disruption’.
Although autumn doesn’t begin until September 1, temperatures are set to drop to 16C (61F) to 18C (64F), making it feel cooler than in recent weeks.
The storm is expected to clear by tomorrow lunchtime but forecasters said it is unlikely the heatwaves of earlier in the month will return in time for the bank holiday weekend.
Instead the conditions are likely to be changeable, with a mixture of sunshine and scattered showers for most parts. The bad weather follows a similar spell of unseasonable conditions last week when Storm Ellen hit the UK.
The Met Office has never had two named storms in August since the process started in 2015, but Francis comes on the back of Ellen which struck last week and caused power outages.
It was blamed for several deaths, including that of a seven-year-old who died in Bobbing, Kent, on Friday after being struck by a tree toppled by strong winds.
Ellen also saw 15-year-old Nicola Williams swept to her death in the Rhymney River in Llanrumney, Cardiff, and a 50-year-old holidaymaker die in the sea near Helston, west Cornwall, after getting into difficulties.
Meanwhile Mark Spence, 47, was also killed after being struck by debris as he slept when the chimney stack was blown through the roof of his home, in Bradford, West Yorkshire, on Sunday.
Rod Dennis, spokesman for RAC Breakdown, said the storm could cause problems for those on the roads over the next 24 hours. ‘Drivers look set for yet more miserable conditions in the run-up to the bank holiday,’ he said.
‘At the very least, surface spray on the roads will be a problem, but if conditions deteriorate further there’s the prospect of localised flooding and falling branches which could both negatively affect journey times.
‘Drivers must be on their guard and, even though it’s August, trips by car look likely to be anything but plain sailing. Never attempt to drive through floods unless you are sure the water is shallow enough for you to make it through.’
Similarly, the RNLI warned people to take care on the coastline and not to enter the water where a red flag is flying.
Forecasters said the winds were ‘unusual’ for August, but would have to go some way to beat the current record wind gust speed of 87mph recorded at The Needles on the Isle of Wight in August 1996.
Likewise, the wettest August on record in the UK was in 1912 when 167.3mm (6.6in) was recorded across the country as a whole.
Between August 1 and 22, the UK as a whole had seen some 72.7mm (2.9in) of rainfall – around four-fifths of the average rainfall for the month.
No further storm is currently forecast this month, meaning the next storm will begin with A rather than G, as the storm-naming calendar resets on September 1.