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Body of police officer found in 'biblical' flood

Rescue services in Britain recovered the body of a policeman missing since a bridge collapsed in north-western England as helicopters helped evacuate hundreds of residents stranded by the recent flooding.

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AFP - A policeman died after being swept away by "biblical" floods in Britain's scenic Lake District, officials said Friday, as helicopters helped evacuate hundreds of stranded residents.

The policeman had been missing since Thursday in Workington in the tourist-friendly region of northwest England, hit by unprecedented rainfall which caused four bridges to collapse.

"I'm very sad to have to report we've recovered a body on the beach of an individual," said Cumbria Assistant Chief Constable Jerry Graham, identifying the policeman as Bill Barker, 45.

In Cockermouth, the town the worst hit by the floodwaters, helicopters winched people to safety and rescue boats negotiated streets turned into canals after rivers burst their banks.

Barker had been directing motorists away from a bridge in Workington when he disappeared.

Tony Cunningham, the Member of Parliament (MP) for Workington, told Sky News television that the flood was "of biblical proportions" and seen "once every 1,000 years."

"The force of the river was absolutely incredible. This is a stone bridge, to wash away a bridge of that size and dimension is incredible," he said.

More than 200 people were forced to leave their homes overnight, as the bridges collapsed into raging rivers and main roads were blocked.

Residents said they feared more rain. "The thing with the River Cocker is it can fall as quickly as it can rise," said local Alan Smith.

"It's come down four feet (1.2 metres) from last night but the fells are sodden and, if we get any more rain, it will just come straight off and into the river and the level will rise again," he added.

Lifeboat service the RNLI, which also helped search for the body, said conditions were atrocious.

"There is a massive current coming down through the Derwent (river) so, although the sea isn't very rough, conditions... in the river basin have been very challenging," said RNLI manager Brian Ashbridge.

"It's absolutely horrendous. There is a huge amount of debris around in the water at the moment as well, which adds to the difficulties," he added.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown pledged support, saying he had spoken to Environment Secretary Hilary Benn and told him "that if there are facilities needed we will make them available."

Queen Elizabeth II also sent a message saying she was "deeply concerned and saddened" by the flooding and thanked emergency workers for their "selfless efforts."

Floods also hit neighbouring Ireland, where troops were sent to assist emergency services in six cities and towns in the south and west of the country after days of sustained rainfall.

A number of rivers burst their banks, roads were closed and trains cancelled in the worst-hit areas. A coastguard helicopter rescued a family including an 87-year-old woman as their home was surrounded by rising floodwaters.

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