UK floods: South West and Midlands braced as rain pours

How tyres are being recycled to make drivable roads through flood water

High tides, rain and strong winds continue to cause problems as south-west England and the Midlands are braced for floods.

The Environment Agency (EA) has issued nine severe flood warnings, which mean there is a "danger to life".

Numerous lower-level flood warnings and alerts have been issued across England and Wales, mainly in southern areas.

There are also Met Office warnings of heavy rain for southern England, south Wales and parts of Northern Ireland.

The Environment Agency said dangerous high tides would affect Westbury, Broadoak and Newnham on the Severn Estuary later on Friday evening.

It warned properties at Weir Green, Minsterworth, Elmore and Longney were also at risk due to the "overtopping of the tidal defences".

Weather information

Two people in rain ponchos in Edinburgh

Dangerous high tides would affect the south-west coast from Hartland Point in north Devon round Land's End to Plymouth, including Wadebridge and Bude but excluding Truro and Plymouth Barbican, the agency said.

Flooding is "expected" at high tides on Friday evening, Saturday morning and afternoon, Sunday morning and Monday morning.

A spokeswoman urged residents in the affected areas to check the Environment Agency website as the picture was changing.

Severe warnings are also in place for the area around Ilfracombe, north Devon, and in "low-lying or exposed parts of coastal communities", including Clovelly, Westward Ho!, Watermouth Cove, Combe Martin and Lynmouth.

Water levels there at high tide on Saturday morning - about 07:00 GMT - are expected to be more than 3ft (1m) higher than a previous surge in early January, though waves are not expected to be as large.

Dangerous conditions are expected in all areas two to four hours either side of high tides.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson chaired another meeting of Cobra, the government's emergency committee.

"A number of severe warnings have now been issued and so I urge everyone to listen to all the advice being issued," he said.

"Environment Agency staff are working day and night, alongside the emergency services and other local specialist agencies, to get communities ready for the bad weather."

Meanwhile, Prime Minister David Cameron has expressed "enormous sympathy" for the people who have been living on the Somerset Levels where 25 sq miles (65 sq km) have been flooded for several weeks.

Another Met Office amber rain warning - meaning "be prepared" - has been issued for the area and is valid until 03:00 GMT on Saturday.

Writing in the Western Daily Press, Mr Cameron said: "I know that a great deal of work has been done to try and alleviate the situation but it is not acceptable for people to have to live like this almost four weeks later - and I am not ruling out any option to get this problem sorted out.

"The government is doing everything we can to help people recover as quickly as possible where they have suffered damage to their homes and businesses."

Heavy rain

Most of southern England and south Wales, as well as County Antrim, County Armagh and County Down in Northern Ireland, are subject to a lower-level yellow for rain warnings until 03:00 on Saturday.

"A further area of heavy rain will spread eastwards across the UK on Friday, clearing the south-east of England during the early hours of Saturday," the warning said.

"20-30mm (1in) of rain will fall quite widely, with around 40mm on some high ground in south-west England and south Wales. The heavy rain will be accompanied by strong to gale force winds."

A helicopter carrying a large bag of slate suspended beneath it by a rope Some Welsh flood defences have been repaired using bags of slate delivered by helicopter
Farmer Roger Forgan Somerset farmer Roger Forgan is using a boat to get to his farm which has been cut off by flood waters
Residents of Thorney Parts of the Somerset Levels have been flooded throughout January

Parts of northern England, Northern Ireland and much of Scotland are also subject to a yellow warning for snow until 21:00 GMT.

The snow has made driving conditions difficult in parts of Scotland, with a crash involving two lorries and a car leading to the closure of the A9 near Drumochter.

A small number of flood warnings have also been issued for the country.

The EA said places "at risk" from high tides and winds over the weekend included coastal and tidal areas of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Bristol and south Gloucestershire.

Scene in Somerset

In Burrowbridge, a small community in the heart of the Somerset Levels, it started raining at 11:00 GMT.

Driving, heavy rain has been falling on flooded fields across the area, and on this small village in the middle of it all.

The River Parrett flows straight through here - so swollen with water that the arch of the bridge is no longer visible, and it laps just a foot beneath the riverbank. Locals say in summer it is 3m lower.

Huge bags filled with sand have been filled and placed along the sides of the river as far as the eye can see.

They're covered with plastic, which is a basic but effective way of making the banks here a couple of feet higher.

Environment Agency men in yellow jackets have been keeping an eye on the water since first light - if it bursts its banks, a dozen properties will flood.

Many other coastal areas of England could also be affected by the wind, rain and high tides from Friday through to Sunday, it added.

In Wales, Aberystwyth University's seafront halls of residence are to be evacuated until Monday. Buildings there have been evacuated several times in recent weeks.

Flood defences on part of the Welsh coast, washed away by recent storms, have been reinforced with bags of slate set down by a helicopter.

In the Somerset Levels, the Environment Agency said it was running pumps 24 hours a day to drain the water.

It said 62 pumps were removing about 1.5 million tonnes of water - equivalent to 600 Olympic-sized swimming pools - each day.

Two soldiers and a council worker look at a flooded road Labour accused the government of making "policy by photo opportunity"

Military planners met council officials in Somerset on Thursday, but the county council decided Army help was not needed.

Holding back the water

 Flood barrier diagram

Dredging, flood barriers, natural flood management and sustainable drainage are recognised methods of preventing or alleviating flooding. BBC News looks at how these methods work and the scientific principles behind them.

On the BBC's Question Time on Thursday, shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry accused the government of making "policy by photo opportunity" after two soldiers were pictured assessing the scene in Somerset.

"The prime minister said he was going to call in the Army and the Army arrive and they go home again," she said.

The Environment Agency said dredging of rivers in Somerset would not begin until flood water had drained and river banks were safe.

The Prince of Wales is expected to visit flood-affected parts of the county on Tuesday.

The visit had been planned so the prince could see how businesses and residents coped with the 2012 flooding, but he will now see the latest problems for himself.

A map of the UK showing rainfall compared to the January average

Up to and including 28 January, the South East and central southern England had a record 175.2mm (6.9in) of rainfall in January - beating the previous record of 158.2mm for the same parts of England set in 1988.

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