Storm Christoph flooding – Oxford Covid vaccine factory at risk of flooding as 2,000 homes evacuated

FIREFIGHTERS are battling to save a factory producing the Oxford Covid vaccine in North Wales from heavy flooding caused by Storm Christoph.

Wrexham Council leader Mark Pritchard said emergency services were working to protect the jab – as 2,000 homes across England were evacuated following torrential rainfall overnight. 

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Mr Pritchard 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.

"I've been up all night… it's a very difficult time for us."

It comes after firefighters and police evacuated some 2,000 homes and businesses in south Manchester last night with 3,000 properties said to be at risk.

Families in Maghull in Merseyside and Ruthin, North Wales, were also forced out of their homes due to rising floodwaters.

Four "severe" flood warnings, meaning there is a danger to life, were issued by the agency for the River Mersey at Didsbury and Northenden, and in Maghull. A fifth was issued by Natural Resources Wales for Bangor on Dee.

Amber and yellow weather warnings are in force today for the storm, which is also threatening to bring up to 30cm of snow to northern areas.

And ministers fear the floods could affect the vaccine rollout as they threatened to close vaccination centres and disrupt jab deliveries.

Here's everything we know so far:

  • Around 2,000 properties in the East Didsbury, West Didsbury and Northenden areas of Manchester were evacuated last night amid rising water levels
  • Brits in the areas of Maghull in Merseyside and Ruthin, North Wales were also asked to leave their homes
  • Four "severe" flood warnings were issued by the agency for the River Mersey at Didsbury and Northenden, and in Maghull. A fifth was issued for Bangor on Dee in Wales.
  • The Environment Agency has issued a further 191 flood warnings across England, mainly across the Midlands and north of the country
  • There are fears that the Storm could force the closure of vaccination centres, disrupting the rollout of the jab

It comes as torrential rain continues to lash England, with many rivers at "dangerously high levels", the Environment Agency said.

Boris Johnson chaired a Cobra crisis meeting yesterday after major incidents were declared in Greater Manchester, South Yorkshire and Cheshire.

And the Prime Minister warned the situation could get worse.

Mr Johnson said: "We are looking at a pattern of rainfall, possibly not so bad this week but worse possibly next week.”  

But the PM said steps were being taken to ensure the transport and energy networks were prepared so that electricity outages would not be "severe" and that there were sufficient supplies of sandbags.

He told reporters: "If you are told to leave your home then you should do so.

"People may think this is a minor issue at the moment, still relevantly minor by standards of previous floods, but never underestimate the suffering, the misery, that floods can cause people."

Downing Street said Covid-secure facilities would be available for any people forced to evacuate as a result of the weather.

Meanwhile, emergency services worked through the night to protect a factory in Wrexham producing the Oxford/Astrazeneca vaccine from the effects of severe flooding.

Large swathes of the country have also been bit by torrential rainfall.

Met forecaster John Griffiths said Aberllefenni in Wales had seen the UK's highest amount of rainfall from Storm Christoph, with 187.8mm dumped over the last 56 hours.

He added Bolton in Greater Manchester recorded the highest rainfall in England at 150.4mm over the same amount of time – more than the region's average for the entire month of January.

North Wales Police also said its officers were helping the fire service to evacuate homes in nearby Ruthin, Denbighshire, and urged people to avoid the area.

The force tweeted: "Officers have been called to assist @DenbighshireCC and @NWFRS 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."

Meanwhile, RNLI lifeboat volunteers were forced to rescue a dad and two young children from the sea off Llanddwyn Beach in Anglesey, North Wales after the family became trapped by rising waters.

Crai Reservoir in South Wales saw the second highest total, with 115.6mm, and areas in Glamorgan and Cumbria also topped 100mm over the same period.

The Environment Agency has issued a further 191 flood warnings across England, with 228 less severe flood alerts, mainly across the Midlands and north of the country.

Almost the whole of England, Wales and Northern Ireland are subject to yellow weather warnings for rain until midday today, with a more serious amber warning stretching from the East Midlands to the Lake District.

The amber alert warns of the risk of flooding and deep floodwaters which could pose a risk to life, and there are further warnings for snow and ice in Scotland.

An amber warning for snow in parts of southern Scotland warned around 30cm could fall in areas above 400m, with up to 10cm likely to accumulate in lower regions this morning.

Train operator Northern said torrential rain and flooding across the region had led to the closure of several rail routes, while others had suffered "significant disruption".

The company's regional director, Chris Jackson, said: "Unfortunately the situation is only getting worse and we have had to make the difficult decision to ask our customers not to travel on the Northern rail network in the North West for the rest of today."

Met Office forecaster Grahame Madge described Storm Christoph as "quite a slow-moving system" which is bringing "a variety of weather" to the UK.

The meteorologist said: "While rain remains the main hazard in the south, further north we've got snow and ice remaining a risk.

"The system will work its way through, we are expecting significant totals of rainfall and when you combine that with snowmelt it can lead to localised flooding across the affected regions."

There is a risk of further snow later in the week as Storm Christoph makes its way east, with accumulations expected in Scotland, northern England and parts of Northern Ireland, Mr Madge added.

Public Health England (PHE) has issued a cold weather alert for the North East, North West, and Yorkshire and the Humber from 9am this morning to January 25.

Dr Owen Landeg, principal environmental public health scientist at PHE, urged people to "keep looking out" for frail or older neighbours and relatives, particularly those living alone or with a serious illness.

People were preparing for rising floodwaters in West Yorkshire on Wednesday morning, with towns in the Calder Valley laying out sandbags and flood wardens monitoring water levels.

Rail services have been disrupted on the Northern network after tracks flooded.

There are suspensions on services from Carlisle to Skipton or Maryport, all destinations from Rotherham Central, and between Manchester and Newton le Willows.

Rail services between Warrington Central and Liverpool Lime Street, Altrincham to Chester, and Wigan to Southport are also suspended.

North Yorkshire County Council said more than 15,000 sandbags were at the ready around the county.

Meanwhile, Public Health England (PHE) issued a cold weather alert from "first thing" on Thursday until 9am on January 25 for the North East, North West and Yorkshire and the Humber.

The agency said the risk of flooding will amplify the public health risks of the severe cold weather.

Last night rescue teams worked throughout the night to save a Morrisons delivery van that came stuck on a flooded road.

The County Durham & Darlington Fire & Rescue Service posted a video of the rescue congratulating the crew on rescuing the delivery driver.

Met Office spokesman Oli Claydon said rain is the biggest initial concern – before temperatures plunge and winds pick up later this week.

He described the situation as "a timeline of different hazards as we go through the week".

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