TRAIN passengers heading west for Christmas were forced to change their plans after a busy rail junction flooded near Tiverton.

Floods washed away ground beneath the line and buckled tracks at Cowley Bridge when the River Exe burst its banks after the second bout of flooding to hit the county in as many months.

First Great Western is expecting to re-open the line on Saturday (December 29) - exactly a week after the flooding struck during the busiest travel weekend of the year.

A limited road transport service has been set up to ferry passengers between Tiverton Parkway station and Exeter St Davids as fire crews and Network Rail engineers try to contain the flood using inflatable dams.

Elsewhere, the owner of Bickleigh Mill shopping centre near Tiverton said it was business as usual despite the ground floor shops being submerged and the car park suffering severe damage.

Kim Sproat said torrents of water from the nearby River Exe destroyed the three-storey car park and left the ground floor under 1m of water.

He said the restaurant also flooded, but more than 30 helpers swept all the water out to make sure it re-opened by Christmas Eve.

“It all happened at around 2.40am on Sunday,” he said.

“We’ve had a digger in the car park trying to level it out, but people can use the ‘overflow’ car park.

“It’s business as usual for the shops and restaurant, but the multi-storey car park was destroyed.

“In the nine years I’ve been here I’ve never seen it as bad, but it’s just one of those things and you have to get on with it.”

Devon and Somerset Fire Service said two people were rescued from a flooded property in Bickleigh shortly after 4.30pm on Sunday.

A flood warning remains in place for properties near the River Batherm at Bampton, including Bampton Bridge, and on the B3277 Brook Street and Britton Street, including New Buildings, Manor Mill and Bridge Terrace.

Low-lying properties and roads around the Rivers Exe and Culm at Stoke Canon are under threat, while flood alerts remain in place for the Rivers Clyst and Culm, affecting Hemyock, Cullompton, Stoke Canon, Broadclyst and Clyst St Mary, and the Middle River Exe from Exebridge to Tiverton, as well as the Rivers Haddeo, Batherm, Lowman, Creedy, Creedy Yeo, Little Dart and Lapford Yeo, and their tributaries.

Stoke Canon will host one of two emergency meetings in the New Year, organised by Devon County Council to gather information about the latest bout of flooding.

Drop-in meetings will be held at some of the worst affected areas in the coming weeks, including Braunton on January 3, where dozens of homes and businesses were flooded when the River Caen burst its banks overnight on Saturday.

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