More flooding was predicted tonight as heavy rain is expected to hit an already storm-battered Cornwall in the UK.
British Prime Minister David Cameron promised the county as much help as it needed to get back on its feet after residents woke to find their homes and businesses under several feet of muddy water.
Earlier, a clean-up operation got under way to removed inch-deep mud and debris from people’s homes.
Weather forecasters are predicting more heavy showers overnight – although not as severe as last night – and the Environment Agency warned of the risk of further flooding.
The heavy rains and gale force winds brought misery to St Austell, Lostwithiel, St Blazey, Bodmin, Par, Mevagissey and Luxulyan.
There were no reports of serious injuries but police declared the flooding a “major incident” with scores of residents evacuated, schools closed, the transport network hugely disrupted and train services stopped by a landslide at Lostwithiel. In Mevagissey 100 properties were flooded.
Eco-attraction the Eden Project, near St Austell, was also closed and is not likely to open again until the weekend.
Mr Cameron said Cornwall had suffered a “very difficult night”.
“I know that everyone is working around the clock to get this sorted,” he said during Prime Minister’s Questions.
“We have said we stand ready to help in any way we can.
“We have to remember when the flood waters actually start to recede, that is when many of the biggest problems begin, over insurance and getting people back into their homes, and we’ve got to make sure we help people in every way we can.”
Cornwall was hit on the first anniversary of the floods that devastated Cumbria and claimed the life of Pc Bill Barker.
Pc Barker, 44, was guarding the Northside Bridge in Workington on the eve of his birthday when it collapsed, throwing him into the River Derwent.
As a precaution police had closed the 700-year-old bridge over the River Fowey in Lostwithiel as it had been battered for several hours by flood water and there were fears it might give way under the strain..
Today’s rescue and clean up operations evoked memories of the 2004 floods in the north Cornwall village of Boscastle.
Barry Green, 46, owner of Lostwithiel Bakery, was at work early today when the River Fowey burst its banks.
He said his premises on Quay Street were “pretty much destroyed”.
“It all kicked off at about 5.15am when I heard a bubbling outside in the drains,” he said.
“I was up at 3am and everything was fine. I had to quickly get the stock high up off the floor and call the flood lines to let them know we had a problem.
“Within three or four minutes it was knee high. One minute it was just lapping at the front door with no problem and I was just lifting a few boxes then I opened the front door and it just came pouring through.
“The speed of it was very, very surprising. One minute I was making bread the next I was wading waist high through muddy water.
“We’ve had people coming in to help but it’s pretty much destroyed the shop.”
The Environment Agency said five flood warnings and 17 flood watches were currently in force for rivers across the region and warned of further floods.
“The Met Office has forecast showers overnight tonight into Thursday, with the possibility of heavy localised showers,” a spokesman said.
“This rainfall will fall on already saturated ground resulting in a risk of further flooding in Cornwall.”
The Agency said more than 200 properties had been protected from flooding by local flood defence schemes, including St Ives, Truro, Bodmin and Tavistock.
As well as police and fire crews, coastguard rescue teams helped with the search missions along with RAF helicopters.
Weather experts said Cardinham, on Bodmin, recorded 18.8mm of rainfall in one hour and 50mm in nine hours and said more rain was on the way.
Stephen Ellison, a meteorologist with MeteoGroup UK, the weather division of the Press Association, said: “It will be a mainly fine early evening with clear spells and a few heavy showers.
“Cloud will then increase from the west bringing more frequent showers or longer spells of rain throughout much of the night, some heavy, but nothing on the scale of last night.”
The AA – which used specialist water rescue Land Rovers to help stricken motorists – said about 25 vehicles were recovered when drivers attempted to pass down flooded roads or were caught out by the river bursting its banks.
Chief Superintendent Chris Boarland, commander for Cornwall, said: “A major incident was declared this morning due to the severe weather which has affected many parts of Cornwall.
“While the weather is improving the rising river levels pose a serious danger to the public.
“People should avoid travelling throughout the county and must never try to cross flooded roads.
“The police continue to work with our partners to monitor the latest weather and flooding forecasts and we will act as needed.”
Cornwall Council leader Alec Robertson praised the response from all the agencies involved in the flooding.
“This was a very serious incident and our thoughts are with everyone who has been affected by the flooding,” he said.
“Almost every part of the council has been involved in dealing with the incident.
“It is also important to pay tribute to all those people who helped their neighbours – this was a real example of communities working together to support each other.”