Flood-hit communities were today facing up to the devastation caused by the torrential downpours as homes and businesses were cut off by collapsed or damaged bridges and schools closed.
Structural engineers and military experts were carrying out an urgent safety review of Cumbria’s 1,800 bridges as fears grew that Calva bridge in Workington was on the brink of being swept away.
The town was cut off, with Friday’s collapse of Northside bridge and closure of Calva bridge forcing residents to make lengthy detours.
Cumbria County Council said 13 primary schools and five secondary schools will be closed today, with the majority hoping to reopen tomorrow.
Police said a total of 16 bridges and at least 25 roads were closed. About 60 people were still sheltering in the two main reception centres.
The Environment Agency said the unprecedented rainfall in Cumbria last week “would have overwhelmed any defence” and warned river levels across the region were expected to remain relatively high for the next few days.
A spokesman said “the phenomenal rainfall would have overwhelmed any defence” and dredging the river at Cockermouth would have made “no difference whatsoever”.
He said defences at Cockermouth were raised using a £100,000 investment following the January 2005 floods to protect against a one-in-a-100-year event.
And he said contrary to some reports there were no outstanding upgrades due.
Initial inspections of flood defences suggested they were not damaged.
Andrew Butler, of Cumbria Highways, said a sheer crack in Calva bridge’s central arch had grown and the deck of the bridge had sunk more than a foot.
Tony Cunningham, the MP for Workington said getting to nearby Seaton had turned into a 90 mile journey, adding: “My major concern is residents who are cut off. Things are getting desperate.”
He suggested temporary structures may need to go up in the short-term.
But he said locals were responding well, adding: “The community spirit is incredible.”
Churches across Cumbria prayed for the flood victims.
The Bishop of Carlisle, The Rt Revd James Newcome, said the thoughts of the county were particularly with the family and friends of Pc Bill Barker, who disappeared into the swollen waters of the River Derwent early on Friday morning after the Northside bridge collapsed.
Yesterday, Cumbria’s Chief Constable Craig Mackey met Pc Barker’s widow Hazel at the family home and said she was “understandably distraught” but overwhelmed by the response to her husband’s death.
Canon Bryan Rowe, of St Michael’s Church in Workington, said: “The whole community is hurting. We are isolated. We are a long way from a motorway now. We can’t even go the other side of the river.
“The sad thing is it’s going to take months.”
But he added: “Cumbrians are a unique breed. They say what they see. They are hands-on people.
“They will twine and moan but then they will just get on with it. They won’t sit back and say ’why has this happened to me?”’
In Cockermouth yesterday the centre of the town was still cordoned off by police as an army of surveyors, structural engineers, utility workers and Environment Agency staff continued their work to start the clean-up.
Paul Cusack, who employs 12 staff at his travel agency, Cockermouth Travel in the town, was moving the business to another premises in the town.
He said: “(Yesterday) should have been the Christmas lights switch on in Cockermouth.
“The feeling is a mixture of devastation and determination, to get it all put right again, people in this area are very resilient.
“The only time I have felt tearful is because of the numbers of people calling up offering to help, not just locally but nationally.”
Flood claims in Cumbria and south Scotland are expected to be in the region of £50-100 million, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) said.
Early indications are that insurers have already received between 500 and 1,000 claims.
The Cumbria Flood Recovery Fund, set up by the Cumbria Community Foundation reached £145,000.
On Saturday Prime Minister Gordon Brown pledged an extra £1 million of Government money to help flood-hit communities during a visit to Cockermouth.
The Regional Development Agency is expected to make an announcement on funding today.
Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said local authorities would receive help from central government funds and the Department for Transport would provide money to repair bridges.
Tory MP Nick Herbert, shadow environment secretary, said: “We must have a concerted effort to get people back into their homes as soon as possible.
“What we can’t see is, as happened after the floods of 2005 and 2007, where people were out of their homes for months on end.”
Meanwhile the bad weather was affecting other parts of the country.
Experienced canoeist Chris Wheeler, 46, from Reading, Berkshire, died after becoming trapped under his boat while riding a flooded river.
He was caught beneath a tree at River Dart at Mel Tor, Poundsgate, Newton Abbot, on Saturday afternoon.
And a search was under way for a woman believed to have been swept into the River Usk in Brecon, South Wales at about 7pm on Saturday night.
High winds also forced the closure of the Port of Dover for a short period delaying ferry crossings in the channel.
Brendan Jones, forecaster with MeteoGroup UK, the weather division of the Press Association, said scattered showers in Cumbria today would be not be heavy enough to cause additional problems.
But more heavy rain is expected in the coming days, with strong winds tomorrow night.
He said: “Rainfall today is not going to be enough to raise river levels, but tomorrow we could easily see another 30 to 40mm of rain, possibly more over high ground, with gusts of up to 70mph tomorrow night.”