More than 1,300 households have been urged by police to evacuate their homes due to a risk of flooding in parts of Bedfordshire as large swaths of the UK brace themselves for Storm Bella.
Torrential rain has brought widespread flooding to the country, with people having to be rescued from vehicles and others evacuated from their homes. The arrival of Storm Bella on Boxing Day will bring further downpours and winds of up to 70mph in exposed coastal locations, according to the Met Office.
Rain of up to 15-25mm is likely to fall in Wales and south-west England, and up to 40-60mm over some hills, the Met office said.
Bella, which follows relatively calm and cold conditions across the UK on Friday, has led to the Met Office to issue an amber wind warning, which warns travel could be disrupted in south Wales and across southern England on Saturday.
A yellow warning of wind for the whole of England and Wales as well as the far south of Scotland has also been issued and will be in force from 3pm on Boxing Day.
Bedfordshire police “strongly urged” residents living near the River Great Ouse in north Bedfordshire to seek alternative accommodation due to concerns over flooding on Friday night.
Supt Steve Ashdown, who is leading the response, said officers had visited more than 1,300 homes in the area on Thursday. “The river is currently at heightened levels and we’re predicting a significant flooding event by 8pm this evening,” he said in a video on Twitter.
“If you received one of those notices last night, you are in one of those properties that are most at risk from this flood. We would encourage you to leave if it is safe for you to do so, as soon as you are able to do so. Appreciate the timing of this on Christmas Day is not great, but the risk to you and your family … is significant.”
Ashdown asked residents who were able to leave their homes to do so in a “Covid-safe way” if possible, recommending they go to a single location and stay there until it is safe to return.
Bedford International Athletic Stadium is being used as an emergency assistance centre for people forced to evacuate their property.
In a statement, Bedford borough council warned of “significant levels of floodwaters to impact Bedford and other parts of the borough” and said that a Covid-safe centre had been set up at the arena. Bromham village hall is also being used as a refuge for people who have left their homes.
Due to the flooding, residents have been permitted to go to others’ homes, despite the tier 4 coronavirus rules in place.
Elsewhere in Bedfordshire, nine people and three dogs were rescued using an inflatable boat from a flood-hit property in the village of Harrold. Two severe flood warnings and 18 flood warnings were issued for the area in and around the county by the Environment Agency.
Meanwhile, Northamptonshire police continued to urge people to stay away from the Billing Aquadrome holiday park, after hundreds were evacuated on Christmas Eve due to high water levels on the River Nene. On Thursday, the Environment Agency issued two severe flood warnings for the river, indicating a risk to life.
The force said on Twitter that water levels had reached 5ft in some places, with emergency services using boats to take residents in the worst-hit areas to safety.
Most of those evacuated were able to find overnight accommodation with friends and family, with a special exemption from Covid-19 restrictions, while about 100 people were transferred to a hotel.
Det Supt Jamie Piscopo said: “Emergency services are working hard to ensure residents can return to the site as soon as possible, however it is not currently safe to do so. We’d urge them to stay away until such time as it is safe to return.”
Across England, a total of 83 flood warnings and 102 flood alerts, as well as the two severe flood warnings, remained in force at 5pm on Christmas Day as huge amounts of water flowed through river catchments.