Boris Johnson has made a visit to Didsbury in Manchester to speak to Environment Agency officials after the area was hit by severe flooding from Storm Christoph overnight.
Speaking to reporters at Withington golf club, the prime minister said recent improvements to the region’s flood defences had averted a much worse situation.
“We’ve put £60m into the Greater Manchester area’s flood defences and there’s another £20m on the way,” he said. “Here in Didsbury they’ve managed to protect 10,000 homes by what they’ve done.”
Five severe flood warnings remained in place in the UK on Thursday afternoon, after hundreds of properties in Greater Manchester and Wales were evacuated overnight. Emergency crews including specialist divers were searching the River Taff in Cardiff after a member of the public reported seeing a body in the river below Blackweir.
South Wales police said: “Shortly after 9am this morning, a call was received from a member of the public concerning the discovery of what appears to be a body in the River Taff. A cordon has been put in place while emergency services attend the scene.”
Three “severe” flood warnings for danger to life issued by the Environment Agency remain in place: for the English River Dee at Farndon, the River Bollin and Agden Brook at Little Bollington and the River Bollin at Heatley.
The GM Strategic Coordination Group for Storm Christoph and the Environment Agency have stood down severe flood warnings for Didsbury and Northenden, meaning people evacuated from their homes can return.
Another 200 flood warnings were in place across Wales and the north of England, with up to 11.8in (30cm) of snow predicted in northern areas, including for large stretches of the River Irwell and the River Roch.
With heavy snowfall across much of Scotland closing roads in the Highlands and the Queensferry crossing near Edinburgh, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency issued four flood alerts across large areas of the north and north-east.
The alerts, the lower of the three tiers of warning, cover Orkney, Sutherland and Caithness in the north, and a substantial area south of Inverness covering the Cairngorms across to Kinlochlaggan, and the whole of the north-east including Moray, Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen.
In Wales, emergency services worked overnight to prevent flood waters damaging an industrial estate where a crucial part of the manufacture of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine takes place. Wockhardt UK, which has the UK government contract to “fill finish” the Covid vaccines, has laboratories, production lines and warehouses in Wrexham Industrial Estate.
The company said it had experienced “mild flooding resulting in excess water surrounding part of the buildings across site”. It added: “All necessary precautions were taken, meaning no disruption to manufacturing or inlet of water into buildings. The site is now secure and free from any further flood damage and operating as normal.”
Mark Pritchard, the leader of Wrexham county borough council, said teams worked to ensure no vaccine was lost. He told BBC Radio Wales: “We had an incident at Wrexham Industrial Estate, the Oxford vaccination is produced there and the warehouse where it is stored, obviously I can’t tell you where it is, but we had to work in partnership to make sure we didn’t lose the vaccinations in the floods.”
Thousands of people in Greater Manchester were assessing damage to their homes and businesses after about 2,000 properties were affected by flooding in East Didsbury, West Didsbury and Northenden on Wednesday night.
Nick Bailey, assistant chief constable of Greater Manchester police, said the region had “avoided the worst” but maintained that asking people to evacuate was the right measure.
Dawn Docx, the deputy chief fire officer of Greater Manchester fire and rescue, said: “It’s been an incredibly busy night for our firefighters and throughout yesterday. Our advice remains the same, please take extra care if you are out on the roads today and only travel if it’s essential. If water is above ankle deep, do not even try to go through it.”
Ben Lukey, of the Environment Agency, said some parts of the region had recorded 200mm of rain – more than a month’s worth – on Tuesday and Wednesday and some rivers had reached record levels.
The Environment Agency said many rivers were at “dangerously high levels”, but by 7am on Thursday Manchester city council said it believed water levels for the River Bollin and for the River Mersey in Northenden and Didsbury had peaked.
An amber warning for rain in Greater Manchester was replaced by a yellow warning for ice. Motorists were being urged to take care, with many roads shut and rail services disrupted.
North Wales police declared a major incident in the early hours of Thursday in Bangor-on-Dee, tweeting: “Severe flood risk: Emergency services are asking residents of Bangor-on-Dee to evacuate properties and proceed to Ysgol Sant Dunawd immediately. Do not try to leave the area yourself. 4×4 vehicles will be utilised by emergency services to evacuate residents from the school.”
Natural Resources Wales said the Dee was at its highest recorded level since the water gauge became operational in 1996.
Some residents in Ruthin, north Wales, were also evacuated and staying with relatives or being put up by the local authority. North Wales police said its officers were helping the fire service with the evacuation in Ruthin, Denbighshire, and urged people to avoid the area after a bridge over the River Clwyd collapsed.
The force tweeted: “Officers have been called to assist Denbighshire CC and NWFRS [North Wales fire and rescue service] in Ruthin, where some homes are being evacuated. Regrettably, people who do not live locally are driving to the area to ‘see the floods’. Please do not stretch our resources by adding to the problem.”
In Carmarthen, south-west Wales, people were treated for the effects of fumes after using a generator to pump water from their homes.
In south Wales, Rhondda Cynon Taf council said there was a landslip on the mountainside above the village of Pentre but it did not believe there was an immediate threat to the area.