Severe flood warning in South West as heavy rain falls

The BBC's Andrew Plant reports from deluged Devon

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A severe flood warning has been issued for part of south-west England, as river levels rise after heavy rain.

The Environment Agency said lives were in danger in areas near the River Axe, in Devon.

In Northumberland, a man in his 20s died when his car came off a road during torrential rain.

Some 48 flood warnings and 133 flood alerts remain in England and Wales, while nine flood warnings and seven flood alerts are in force in Scotland.

The Environment Agency's severe flood warning means there is a danger to life, while a flood warning means immediate action is required. A flood alert means people should be prepared for possible flooding.

People in low lying properties and roads around Stoney Bridge and Castle Hill in Axminster have been urged to stay in a safe place, listen to the emergency services and be ready to evacuate their homes.

At the scene

Residents in Ottery St Mary in east Devon say the River Otter is the highest they've ever seen. It's been raining almost constantly since Thursday and on Friday the river burst its banks. Now trees are half-submerged and acres of fields have flooded.

On Saturday morning, several houses were pumped out by the fire brigade. But people are saying that the warnings about flooding worked as they were more prepared, and so far they've avoided the worst.

The bridge has become a meeting point for people in raincoats, and they're asking each other if their houses are safe.

Earlier severe warnings for the River Yealm in South Hams, Devon, and streets in Burton Bradstock, Dorset, have been downgraded.

The Environment Agency has used pumps to help emergency services clear flood water from properties and warned people on campsites to stay alert.

Officials at Silverstone on the Northamptonshire/Buckinghamshire border had to turn away thousands of fans wanting to see the Formula 1 Grand Prix qualifying sessions on Saturday because of muddy conditions in its car parks.

All fans with tickets for Sunday's Grand Prix have been advised they can attend, but told to allow plenty of time to arrive at the circuit.

Managing director Richard Phillips said it would be "a bit of a challenge", adding "please bear with us, we are going to do our best".

The Met Office has amber warnings of rain in force for Dorset, Somerset and parts of Devon.

Parts of east Devon and west Dorset have received between three to almost five inches of rain in the past 24 hours - more than an average month's worth of rain in a day.

Environment Agency river gauges have recorded record levels at numerous locations including the River Otter at Ottery St Mary and River Bride at Burton Bradstock.

In separate incidents in Dorset, two people stranded on top of their car near the River Bride and a man stuck in his wheelchair in water at Burton Bradstock were rescued by coastguard teams.

Maddy Davey, the watch manager from Portland Coastguard, said: "We have responded to a significantly high number of incidents today - yachts in danger of breaking their moorings, crew have become seasick and most alarmingly a kayaker was separated from his kayak and then swept through the sluice gate into the harbour.

"He was extremely lucky to have survived the ordeal unharmed."

In other developments:

BBC weather forecaster Holly Green said the heaviest rainfall that many parts of the UK experienced on Saturday had eased during the evening.

"There is still a risk of heavy, thundery showers in central and eastern areas of England on Sunday, which could lead to some local, rather than widespread, surface water issues in the heaviest downpours," she said.

Meanwhile, Labour has accused the government of failing to help communities hit by flooding in recent weeks.

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said the government was close to an agreement with insurance companies to make cover affordable for all.

"We have been in close contact with the insurers, asking them to do everything they can to get on the ground with their loss adjusters," she said.

The Met Office said a low pressure system was set to bring rain and thundery showers to the UK until early next week.

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UK forecast for 17/04/2014

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