99mph storm in trail of destruction

Messenger Newspapers: Waves crash near Brighton Pier in East Sussex, as England and Wales face a battering from the worst storm in five years Waves crash near Brighton Pier in East Sussex, as England and Wales face a battering from the worst storm in five years

A major storm battered southern parts of the UK, with winds of almost 100mph tearing through property and causing flooding and major travel disruption.

More than 7,000 homes in the Bristol and Bath area have reportedly been left without power, flights and rail services across the country have been cancelled or delayed and there is widespread flooding in southern parts of England as rain and hurricane-force winds arrived from the South West.

Trees have been brought down by high winds, damaging property, and a number of roads left impassable by floodwater.

A teenage boy is also feared dead after being swept out to sea in Newhaven, East Sussex yesterday afternoon.

The Met Office said wind reached more than 99mph on the Isle of Wight at 5am and the Environment Agency has issued 14 flood warnings for the South West, as well as 146 flood alerts for the rest of England and Wales.

The 7,000 homes in the South West without power were among 15,500 customers of utility company SSE left without power, Downing Street said. Homes were also left without power on the south coast, in Poole, New Forest, Yeovil, Aldershot, Petersfield and Basingstoke, while in West Sussex a further 200 homes are without power.

Travel operators have taken major precautions to protect passengers. Many train companies in the South are running amended timetables, with some not operating at all until late morning.

On the roads both Severn bridges are closed, the A249 Sheppey Crossing in Kent is closed due to strong winds and there are 30mph speed limits on the Dartford Crossing in Kent

About 60 flights are cancelled at London's Heathrow Airport today, while ferry journeys have also been disrupted, with . P&O Condor, DFDS Seaways and Hovertravel all reporting cancellations.

There are also widespread reports of local roads in Cornwall, Dorset, Hampshire and Sussex blocked or closed due to fallen trees and flash flooding.

Cornwall Council reported heavy flooding on the A388 at Hatt, and trees fallen on a number of A-roads, including the A374 at Sheviock and on the A390 near Lostwithiel. Street lamps were also blown out in Saltash.

In Newquay 100 properties were left without power for part of the night, and emergency services were called out to almost 40 incidents.

Sharon Taylor, assistant chief constable for Devon and Cornwall Police, told the BBC: "So far we have had 122 weather-related incidents, that includes 19 reported areas with localised flooding.

"We have put out over 100 extra police officers, including over 50 special constables. I am pleased to say that the majority of incidents are those reported by our own staff and other agencies out on the road, so it does seem that the public have taken to heart the advice we have been giving out over the weekend.

"We have got a significant number of flood warnings in place and certainly at least 19 areas where we have got localised flooding at the moment.".

She added that police were considering evacuating up to 30 properties at Axminster because of flooding, rather than wind damage.

Ms Taylor said volunteers in 4x4 vehicles were poised to get out around the two counties to help with flood and wind damage.

A police car was damaged by a falling tree on the B2104 in Sussex, officers said, while a car also hit a fallen tree in Langney Rise, Eastbourne. The driver was uninjured, police said.

The so-called St Jude Storm hit the South West late last night before tracking north eastwards across England and southern Wales throughout the morning.

Chris Burton, a forecaster with MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said: "The storm is currently over the south Midlands, but it is moving in a large swathe across the country.

"The strongest winds are around Dorset, Somerset and the Hampshire areas, and they are going to spread north and east in the next few hours.

"The highest winds have hit 99mph in exposed areas on the Isle of Wight. Elsewhere it has reached 80mph in Portland in Dorset and 75mph at Yeovilton in Somerset, but gusts are widely reaching 50mph.

"Over the next few hours we will be expecting gusts of 60mph in central, south-eastern areas and East Anglia, with the potential of winds reaching 80mph, possibly higher, on the south coast.

"But by mid-morning it should have eased off quite quickly and moved over the North Sea, and winds will die down by about 10am."

The coastguard will decide on its next course of action in the search for a 14-year-old boy who disappeared in rough conditions while playing in the sea at Newhaven.

Rescue services including a helicopter and a lifeboat hunted for the missing boy yesterday, but last night the coastguard stood down its search in "atrocious" conditions.

Sussex Police tweeted that there were 125 trees down across roads in the county by 6.30am.

Kent Police's road policing unit said on Twitter that more than 70 trees have been blown down across the county.

UK Power Networks said up to 40,000 households in the South and East of England have been left without power, London Fire Brigade said.

Commuters face chaos on the roads this morning and rail services have been heavily disrupted because of trees falling across tracks.

Chiltern Railways said that because of poor weather conditions between Bicester town and Oxford all lines are blocked because of a tree on the tracks, and se rvices between London and Marylebone and Harrow-On-The-Hill are also disrupted because of a tree fall.

First Great Western tweeted that trains between Plymouth and Newton Abbot may be delayed by up to 70 minutes because of a tree on the line near Ivybridge, and trains between Westbury and Salisbury could be delayed for an hour because of a tree on the line near Warminster.

The Port of Dover was also closed from 6.30am, a spokeswoman said, because of concerns for safety of customers and staff.

Sussex Police said it had been a very busy night across the county and again warned people not to play on the seafront and risk repeating the tragedy of a 14-year-old boy feared dead after he was swept into the sea at Newhaven.

Superintendent Grenville Wilson said: "At 3.30am, I was watching people on CCTV on Brighton Beach dancing around at the waves' edge, occasionally being overtaken by the advancing water. One slip and they could have found themselves in real danger, along with the people who would try to rescue them.

"We witnessed the tragic power of the sea at Newhaven yesterday and our thoughts are with the family and friends of the young lad who is sadly still missing. I don't want to see that repeated."

In other incidents in Sussex, a taxi driver in Eastbourne had a lucky escape when a tree fell on his car but he was able to climb out uninjured.

By 6.30am there were reports of 125 trees down across Sussex.

Inspector Steve Grace said: "There have been two main problems - surface water and fallen trees.

"The rain seems to be easing now, but there are large expanses of water on the roads and you just don't always see them in the dark. Hit one even at moderate speed and you can find yourself completely out of control.

"Fallen trees have blocked roads all over Sussex and, as my colleague found out, when one falls right in front of you, there's no chance of avoiding it. If you have no choice but to drive then please do so with the utmost caution, but if you can stay at home until the worse of it blows through, then I'd recommend you do so."

Hampshire Police reported trees down all over the county and again warned people not to travel unless necessary.

Surrey Police also reported fallen trees on roads.

Western Power Distribution said around 6,000 homes were left without power across the South West of England.

He told BBC Breakfast: "We have seen severe weather, as everyone else has.

"But we have people out there to restore supplies as soon as we can.

"Power lines are down. Our lines are built to withstand these sorts of weathers, but the problem we get is trees falling or branches of trees blowing in the wind and falling on our lines and bringing them down.

"The worst-affected people have been off since about midnight last night. We have restored a lot of them but there are still some people off.

"But we are out there working. All these jobs are in progress and we will get them back (with power) as quickly as we can (but) it's difficult to say how long."

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