Martin Wainwright

Thunderstorms saw villages cut off, cars submerged and roads blocked by landslips as heavy rain tracked slowly north across the country.

Thunder and lightning provided spectacular displays for much of Tuesday night, including five bolts recorded in half a minute above the huge oil refinery at Fawley on the Solent on the south coast. An earthquake measuring 4.3 on the Richter scale hit Folkestone in Kent, south east of London, and scores of people were rescued by fire crews, including a man in Worcestershire, in the English midlands, found balancing on a pile of patio furniture as the nearby river Severn rose round his house.

Worst destruction

The worst destruction was concentrated in the Severn, Avon and Wye valleys between Birmingham in central England and the Welsh border to the west. Almost two-thirds of the historic Severn Valley steam railway between Kidderminster and Bridgenorth was damaged as two weeks’ worth of rain fell in under an hour, sweeping away embankments and leaving rails hanging in mid-air.

“Three storms seemed to come together — I live on top of a hill nearby and I watched it all,” said John Leach, the railway’s marketing manager. “We’ve had flooding before, but never anything on this scale.”

Paramedics and fire crews heading to seriously damaged homes in the area were forced to divert from major roads. In the south-east, power lines were brought down in Kent and blocked storm drains saw sewage spill out in more than 50 incidents. Ambulance crews in Worcestershire, trying to reach the marooned village of Shrawley, found a bridge over the Severn under water.

Paramedic Andy Lightbody, who rescued a man from a cottage with a swollen stream running through it, said: “We’ve never experienced such horrendous conditions before.”

At Hampton Loade in Shropshire, the rain washed away the main village road, leaving some 50 persons trapped in their homes.

Weather forecaster John Hammond, from the U.K.’s Meteorological Office said successive bands of rain and thunderstorms had been triggered by a mixture of warmth and damp.

Scotland was lashed by the tail end of the storms on Wednesday with severe weather warnings issued across the country. Commuter traffic tailed back for miles in Glasgow and Edinburgh as some 25 mm of rain fell in six hours. —

The Guardian Newspapers Limited 2007