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Family rescued from floodwater in Umberleigh as flooding continues in North Devon

By e_glanfield  |  Posted: December 23, 2012

By Emma Glanfield and Philippa Jenkins

  • A photo from the Devon and Cornwall Police helicopter shows a woman clinging to a tree branch near Umberleigh before she was rescued

  • Flooding in Braunton, North Devon

  • Flooding in Braunton, North Devon

  • Flooding in Braunton, North Devon

  • Flooding in Braunton, North Devon

  • Flooding in Braunton, North Devon

  • Flooding in Braunton, North Devon

  • Flooding in Braunton, North Devon

  • Flooding in Braunton, North Devon

  • Flooding in Braunton, North Devon

  • Flooding in Braunton, North Devon

  • Flooding in Braunton, North Devon

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Emergency services from across Devon and Somerset have continued to work throughout the night across North Devon with several peoples lives put at risk from the severe flooding.

People in Braunton, Umberleigh, Barnstaple and Bishops Tawton all suffered from the Rivers Yeo and Caen bursting their banks causing mass evacuations to take place.

Click here to view a full photo gallery of flooding in Barnstaple and Braunton.

The fire service's group commander Neil Blackburn said one of the most dramatic incidents of the night was the rescue of a family from the flooded river at Umberleigh.

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He said: "We were called to the scene at 12.37am and the family were stuck in their car about 60 metres into the river so the access for us was the most difficult and dangerous.

"The water was moving very quickly but we managed to rescue the father and son but the woman was still out there and clinging to a bush.

"The search and rescue helicopter from Chivenor was called but time was running out.

"The RNLI crew with us from Wales took the decision to use their powered boat to get to her.

"I feared the worst but it was a very professional rescue by the RNLI and they got the woman in time.

"The three people were safely rescued and paramedics treated them at the scene."

Robin Goodlad, the RNLI’s Incident Commander during operations in the Barnstaple area, said: "This was a very heroic rescue, there are no two ways about it."

The woman had been in a car with her husband and son when they were trapped by floodwater. The husband and son were rescued by passers-by and the RNLI said the woman had tried to clamber to safety onto the top of the car but was swept away in doing so.

She managed to grab hold of a branch and clung on while a police helicopter hovered overhead.

The RNLI’s Arancia class boat with Chris Missen and Paul Eastman from Porthcawl in Wales and Martin Blaker-Rowe, an RNLI College trainer onboard then took a ‘huge risk’ and looked for the woman.

Robin said: "These three volunteers were working in complete darkness, in an environment they had never been in before and ideally this should have been a two-boat operation. They had a pinpoint light of the police helicopter to locate the woman.

"They got the woman into the boat. She had been in the water for 50 minutes and the guys are gobsmacked that she is alive and if they had not picked her up in that boat she would have been floating away downstream.

"They were fully aware of the risks. This was a high risk operation with a high benefit and they decided to get on with it."

Mr Blackburn also said he was involved in rescuing an elderly couple from Bishops Tawton as well as two dogs.

He added: "It has been very challenging and crews from across the region have been on duty. Crews from Plymouth, Yeovil and Okehampton were all on duty last night."

Mr Blackburn said the clear up operation in Braunton, one of the worst affected areas, would continue today.

He said: "The River Caen did breach again but preventative measures put in place yesterday meant the effects were less.

"The centre we had set up at Braunton School was available to everyone who has been displaced although the community spirit in Braunton has been so strong that a lot of people flooded have gone to their neighbours.

"The specialist pumps have been pumping water out of the village all night and today we will be focusing on getting water out of the businesses, delivering sandbags and unblocking areas which are stopping the water from escaping.

VIDEO: Flooding in Braunton yesterday:

"The roads are clearing and our priority has been to keep the A361 clear up to Chivenor Cross to allow emergency vehicles through."

Several people were evacuated from their homes at Velator, just outside Braunton, at 7.30pm and there are still concerns about the security of Score Farm Bridge in Braunton.

Emergency services still believe there is a risk it could collapse.

Mr Blackburn said he had dealt with a number of incidents on Exmoor where people had got stuck in their cars.

He said: "People just don't realise how deep the water is until they have driven into it. We are still urging people not to travel unless they have to."

Mr Blackburn said emergency services will be working throughout today and are preparing for the further rain forecast for tonight.

VIDEO: Flooding in Braunton yesterday:

Forecasters are predicting a brief let-up today, before more heavy rain hits the region later this evening.

A yellow-graded weather warning, the lowest kind issued by the Met Office, remains in place for the whole of Devon and Cornwall today. A more severe amber-graded heavy rain warning is then in place for the region from midnight until 6pm on Monday.

A chief forecaster at the Met Office said: “A series of active frontal systems with strong to gale force winds will move north-eastwards across most parts of the UK on Sunday.

"This will bring bands of heavy rain to many areas. Rainfall totals of 20-30mm are expected fairly widely, but 50mm or more may fall in some locations – particularly exposed upland areas of the South West.

"Yet another active frontal system is expected to affect parts of England and Wales during Christmas Eve.

"An additional 10-20mm could fall quite widely across southwest England with 30mm or more over some areas. Following heavy rainfall during previous days and given already saturated ground, this rain is likely to lead to both surface water and river flooding issues."

The two severe flood warnings which were in place for the River Yeo and the River Caen last night have this morning been downgraded to flood warnings, meaning they no longer pose a danger to life.

As of 9am, the following roads remain affected by flooding:

- The A377 in Chulmleigh is closed in both directions between the B3096 Leigh Road junction and the B3042 junction

- The A386 in Torrington is closed at the B3227 Calf Street junction, because of a landslip

- Collard Bridge in Snapper has collapsed and the road is closed

- Velator Close in Braunton is closed

- The B3226 at Taddiport in Little Torrington is closed this morning as a bridge needs inspecting once water levels fall later

- The A399 Newtown Bridge also needs inspecting before it can be re-opened

- The road in Braunton between Wrafton and Vellator is not passable

Do you have any photos of flooding in North Devon? Email your photos to emma.glanfield@northcliffedigital.co.uk or send them to us on Twitter: @ThisisNDevon.

Click here to view a weather forecast for North Devon for the next four days.

Related content:

PHOTO GALLERY: Flooding in Braunton & Barnstaple - December 2012

People evacuated from homes in Barnstaple after River Yeo bursts its banks

PHOTOS: Flooding in North Devon - 22/12/12

PHOTOS: Flooding in North Devon - December 2012

PHOTOS & VIDEO: Braunton flooding - evening update

PHOTOS & VIDEO: Braunton flooding - afternoon update

No trains between Barnstaple and Exeter until after Christmas

Do you have something to say? Leave your comment here...

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  • skareggae72  |  December 24 2012, 10:02AM

    Not sure what you expect the EA to do,wave a magic wand & all is merry,as it continues to rain today(Christmas eve),i am sure they are out there doing as much as they can. When an exceptional amount of rain comes down,like it has done over the last 6 months,and the newly constructed defenses are overwhelmed in multiple places like they have been,there is little that can be done,the water has to go somewhere. You can only stack sandbags so high,a boom could have been put across in places,although the water would just go elsewhere,and into somebody else's house. The solution is build a massive concrete gulley,and straighten the river out,but the cost of this would be exceptional,and many buildings would have to be bulldozed,and roads raised-near impossible. Unfortunately,with a place like Braunton(west),which is near sea level,flat & on a river,there will always be flooding,mother nature is always number one.

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  • tomgreen1234  |  December 24 2012, 8:35AM

    I'm guessing a few staff from the environment agency have read this story and ticked down my comments, why not put a comment on here in your defence? Better still why not get an official spokesman to make some sort of official statement, or have I touched a nerve with my comment? You are going for the ignorance is bliss policy in the hope that people focus their blame elsewhere, good policy.

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  • tomgreen1234  |  December 23 2012, 12:30PM

    Forgot to add, the Environment Agency appear to be very quiet at the moment. You rarely see any interviews in the paper, on the website or on TV, why is this? What have they got to hide? Are they embarrassed? Or are they just plainly ignorant to the fact that they could have prevented this?

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  • tomgreen1234  |  December 23 2012, 12:27PM

    Completely disagree Phil, now is EXACTLY the time to start the investigation whilst the evidence is plain to see. It's not about apportioning the blame, it's about finding out why this happened and what can be done about it to stop this happening again in the future. If you leave it a week or so, or even months, the true impact will have lessened significantly which is likely to decrease the need to spend money on improving defences. Surely the residents of the village want answers and probably want them right NOW.

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  • philmacavity  |  December 23 2012, 12:10PM

    Not sure this is the time to start apportioning the blame? Maybe you should go up there and help out the poor people whose homes have been flooded. Why not spare a thought for them rather than get straight onto the blame game. Whilst you are sat in your nice warm, dry home this Christmas some of these people will be having to stay with friends and relatives.

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  • tomgreen1234  |  December 23 2012, 11:59AM

    Maybe if the environment agency worked harder at the flood defences around the area this wouldn't have happened? They need to stand up and accept responsibility.

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  • philmacavity  |  December 23 2012, 11:55AM

    Just been watching Sky news coverage of the flooding, its good to hear that the residents of Braunton have all rallied around to help each other. It shows what good community spirit they have up there.

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  • joannaexe  |  December 23 2012, 10:48AM

    Excellent article once again by the North Devon staff. Best coverage I can find anywhere. Echo the thoughts of Phil, must be awful situation to be in. Hopefully things return to some sort of normality by the end of the day and tonight's forecast weather isn't as bad as it looks.

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  • philmacavity  |  December 23 2012, 10:44AM

    My heart goes out to all those people who have been affected by this awful flooding. It must be horrendous at any time of the year but at Christmas it makes it even worse.

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