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Urgent Checks On Cumbria's 1,800 Bridges

An urgent investigation into the safety of all 1,800 bridges in Cumbria is under way after floods caused several to collapse. Skip related content

Inspectors closed two more bridges yesterday - Station Road Bridge in Keswick and Workington Bridge - meaning 13 have now been shut across the county.

Army experts and structural engineers are checking Calva Bridge in Workington for flood damage.

The bridge, which carries electricity pipes, has reportedly dropped by around a foot from its normal position. The electricity has been "re-zoned" so power will not be affected if it falls.

PC Bill Barker was directing motorists away from Northside Bridge at Workington on Friday when it collapsed and he disappeared into the swollen waters of the River Derwent. His body was recovered later.

Inspectors visited Northside Bridge last July for routine checks, and found it to be structurally sound.

In Workington, the north side of the town and outlying villages are cut off because of the closure of the Calva Bridge.

Local MP Tony Cunningham said: "Seaton is about half a mile away, but last night people were having to take a 90 mile journey that would normally take a minute and a half.

"My major concern is residents who are cut off. Things are getting desperate."

Some people forced out of their homes by the floods are beginning to clear up the damage - but more heavy rain could hamper the recovery effort.

Police say around 20,000 flood defence bags will be handed out in Cockermouth and Keswick today.

Other parts of Britain are being affected by the severe weather.

A canoeist died on a flooded river in Devon, and a woman has gone missing near a river in Brecon, South Wales.

Speaking on Sky News, Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said the floods in Cumbria had been caused by a "phenomenal amount" rain.

He told Adam Boulton: "This is an emergency that is continuing, and I want to pay tribute to all those people who are involved in the relief effort."

"The Prime Minister has pledged £1m to help the region clean up following the floods," he added, "and the local authorities can spend that money however they see fit."

Mr Benn added that the Department of Transport would help fund any repairs to the region's bridges and roads.

Rescue workers in Cockermouth, Cumbria are still searching properties for anyone who may be stranded after a "Biblical" downpour.

"We are now in the process of sweeping the town," said firefighter Tina Fearon.

"We are identifying areas to be checked and double-checked as some people chose to stay in their homes."

Cumbria Constabulary is running a casualty bureau to coordinate the list of people who are so far unaccounted for. They are trying to contact people through a variety of means, including social networking sites.

If people have received a message from the police, they are being asked to respond as soon as possible to let authorities, and friends and family, know that they are safe and well.

The floods operation is still officially in its "emergency" phase but would soon go into the "recovery" stage, added Adrian Holme, group manager for the fire service in Cumbria.

Currently 786 properties are still without power across the affected area, including more than 500 in Cockermouth and almost 150 in Keswick.

Special high volume pumping fire engines have been brought in from Tyne and Wear and Merseyside to pump the water out of basements and streets.

United Utilities says their engineers are now putting contingency plans in place to maintain water and electricity services in case the Calva Bridge does collapse.

The firm said water engineers are currently re-distributing supplies from one part of the network to ensure nearby homes will continue to have drinking water.

Bed and breakfast owners Julie and Les Stevens returned to their property in Keswick to find "total destruction".

"The water was a foot to 18 inches high", Mr Stevens told Sky News.

"It has left mud and sewage in the water. It is starting to smell. It's devastating.

Mr Stevens added: "We took so long renovating the property to make it into a business and when you come back and see it destroyed, you just have to start all over again."

The Environment Agency is checking flood defences in the county to make sure they have not been damaged.

Trees which were blown over in the storms are being cut up to prevent them becoming trapped under bridges.

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