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Cleanup begins in flood-ravaged UK

From Nic Robertson, CNN
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Major flooding in England
  • Residents in Cumbria return home to find posessions ruined by flood waters
  • One police officer killed when swept away on collapsing bridge
  • Rescue workers searching for women feared missing in Wales
  • 11 bridges closed across northern county of Cumbria because of weather

Cockermouth, England (CNN) -- When Sandra Stainton returned to her house in northwest England, everything was covered in brown sludge.

Her furniture was toppled and a 6-foot-high water mark ran across the living room wall, a reminder of how much floodwater had seeped in.

As she sifted through her soggy possessions, a flash of orange caught her eye. It was the family goldfish, flailing in the murk, amid the destruction.

"My kids will be pleased," she said Saturday as she carefully placed it in a small glass bowl. "I just saw it where we keep the coats under the stairs."

Stainton's house is one of hundreds affected in the Cumbria region. Police said at least 1,300 homes suffered the effects of flooding, including loss of power and lack of access.

Some residents returned to survey the damage over the weekend and left with small suitcases stuffed with the few belongings they could salvage.

A few doors from Stainton, Margaret Bancroft managed to save some photos from the house she has lived in for 45 years.

"That's one of the local heroes who was trudging around with his boat yesterday, rescuing people," she said, pointing to a drenched picture. "He's my grandson."

Video: Floods devastate British town
Video: Body found in flood search
Video: Floods continue in Cumbria
  • United Kingdom
  • Scotland
  • Weather

The floods have killed at least one person. Cumbria Police Constable Bill Barker was directing drivers in Workington town Friday when floodwaters destroyed a bridge and washed him away.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who visited the affected areas Saturday, hailed Barker as a hero.

"Police Constable Bill Barker died trying to save the lives of others. ... he will be sorely missed by everybody who is close to him," Brown said. "I believe we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude for the service he showed."

Rescue teams were searching a Welsh river Sunday morning for a woman reported seen in the water the night before, a police spokeswoman said.

Police, fire and mountain rescue teams searched the swollen river Usk -- some 250 miles south of Cockermouth -- with helicopters and dogs starting on Saturday night.

"We were alerted from a member of the public to say there was a lady in the water. There was a call at about 7 last night," the police spokesman said, declining to be named, in line with policy. "She has been missing for more than 12 hours."

Forecasters predicted rain for most of the west of the United Kingdom on Sunday, including Cumbria and Wales, but the risk of additional flooding was lower because river levels were dropping.

"Obviously, we'll be watching the river levels closely to see if they're responding to the rain, but we do expect their levels to continue to decline over the weekend," Stuart Brennan, a spokesman for the Environment Agency, said of the Cumbria region.

Cockermouth town was starting to dry out after the two rivers it sits on raged through its streets Thursday and Friday. The rivers Cocker and Derwent reached several feet high, causing furniture on the ground floor of some buildings to knock into the ceiling, witnesses said.

Some business owners reopened over the weekend, but water flowed rapidly through the town, barely making it under the supporting arches of the bridges. Roads and bridges were closed across Cumbria county, where Cockermouth is, over safety fears, county police said.

During the prime minister's visit, he met emergency crews and residents, and pledged an extra £1 million for communities devastated by flooding.

"We will match the regional development agency money, to help local businesses, homeowners and tenants, making that £2 million," he said. " ... We will do everything we can to support the local community in its hour of need."

Cumbria, a mountainous and rural area, is known for its lush open spaces. British author Beatrix Potter -- creator of the classic children's books about Peter Rabbit and his friends -- left the nation thousands of acres there when she died in 1943.