'Exceptional weather' with rain, wind and high tides to hit UK
A period of "exceptional weather" bringing rain, wind and high tides is set to hit the UK, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has said.
The Environment Agency issued several severe flood warnings - indicating a danger to life - for south-west England, Gloucestershire and Wales.
Tidal flooding is expected in "numerous locations" on Friday due to large waves, high tides and strong winds.
Mr Paterson said ministers were working to ensure all agencies were prepared.
He was speaking after chairing a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee, in which the UK's flood response was discussed.
Dozens of flood warnings are in place in England, Wales and Scotland.
The Met Office has issued yellow weather warnings - the lowest of its three levels - for rain and high winds on Friday in Northern Ireland and western parts of Scotland, Wales and England.
Further warnings have also been issued for Sunday.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland has said there is potential for flooding in a number of areas across the country, including Belfast, as a result of a tidal surge expected at midday on Friday.
And Devon and Cornwall Police and the Isles of Scilly Council have declared a major incident as waves of more than 30ft (10m) are predicted to hit the coasts in those areas.
Cornwall's emergency management centre will be opened in Truro to co-ordinate the response in the county.
Many of the severe flood warnings relate to the north and south coasts of Cornwall and Devon, with the highest risk of flooding expected for two to four hours either side of Friday morning's high tides.
High water is expected at 05:42 GMT at Penzance, 06:54 at Plymouth, 07:05 at Barnstaple and 07:57 further along the south coast at Weymouth in Dorset.
In Wales, the Environment Agency issued a severe flood warning for area of Barmouth on the west coast, saying widespread flooding of properties was likely and that stones and other debris in the waves could seriously injure people.
The agency also issued severe warnings for Greenfield to Bagillt and the Point of Ayr in north Wales and the Usk Estuary at Crindau in the south.
Three severe warnings are also in place around the River Severn downstream from Gloucester.
The agency's head of strategy, Pete Fox, said the expected flooding was due to "a combination of strong winds, large waves and high tides, from the early hours of Friday and into the weekend".
"Coastal paths and promenades could be highly dangerous as there is an increased risk of being swept out to sea. People are warned to stay away from the shoreline," he said.
Geoff Matthews, from HM Coastguard, said people should avoid visiting coastal areas.
"Even a relatively small wave has the power to knock a large man off his feet and take them out to sea in the undertow," he said.Travel disruption
The AA said some motorists were failing to heed flood warnings.Continue reading the main story
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The motoring organisation said it had been to 1,500 call-outs from stranded drivers since 23 December.
Darron Burness, head of the AA's flood rescue team, said: "Our patrols have seen it all in that time - including people ignoring road closure signs, blindly following their sat nav or other drivers into deep water, and 4x4 drivers naively thinking their car has amphibious qualities."
Flooding disrupted a number of train services on Thursday.
Thousands of homes have suffered power cuts due to the recent storms, with some cut off for several days, while numerous properties have been flooded.
In other developments:
- the River Towy in Carmarthen burst its banks after continuing heavy rain.
- a caravan park in the Kent village of Yalding, which David Cameron visited during floods last week, has been evacuated due to more flooding.
- the Thames Barrier in London has been closed to protect people and property along the river, the Environment Agency said.
- the bad weather led to power cuts for 319 properties in Surrey and Hampshire, energy supplier SSE said.
- the search for a 27-year-old man washed out to sea near Porthleven, Cornwall, in the early hours of New Year's Day has been called off after a body was found on the beach.
- the search for a man who fell into the River Stour in Dorset has also been called off. Police are now investigating, and have said a witness saw a woman arguing with the man on a bridge.
- a woman drowned in the sea near Croyde, north Devon, on Tuesday.