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UK flood 'hero' police officer laid to rest

By Melissa Gray
Police Constable Bill Barker died when floodwaters washed him away.
Police Constable Bill Barker died when floodwaters washed him away.
  • Bill Barker died when floodwaters destroyed a bridge and washed him away
  • Floods in Cumbria, northwest England, were worst in 1,000 years
  • Prince Charles due in region Friday in "regal show of support"
  • Cumbria
  • Prince Charles
  • Weather

London, England (CNN) -- The police officer who died in floods last week in northwest England was being laid to rest Friday, a week after the region suffered what was called the worst flooding in living memory.

Cumbria Police Constable Bill Barker died November 20 while directing drivers off a bridge over the flooded river Derwent in the town of Workington. The strong floodwaters destroyed the bridge and washed him away.

A 25-year veteran of the force, Barker was a day away from his 45th birthday when he was killed. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and others hailed him as a hero for keeping people safe while putting his own life at risk.

Barker left his wife, Hazel, and four children. The youngest, 8-year-old Emma, this week wrote a letter to the public, thanking them for their cards and flowers.

"People have been making dinner for our family," she wrote. "The nice people have been coming to see my mum and all our family as well as my Gran. My dog, Sam, went over to my dad's shoes and smelled them, then lay down beside them. I have about 500 cards and all of them make me better."

The funeral was being held at St. Mary and St. Michael Church in Egremont, police said. An honor guard of six motorcyclists from his police force planned to accompany his hearse.

Barker was one of two victims of the floods and heavy rainfall, which also affected southern Scotland, parts of Ireland, and Wales. Britain's Environment Agency said the record rain created floods seen only once in 1,000 years.

The other victim was a woman whose body was found in the River Usk near the Welsh village of Talybont on Tuesday. The woman, who was not named, had been missing since Sunday.

A charity fund to help families and community groups affected by the floods has topped £500,000 ($818,500), the Cumbria County Council said Friday.

Prince Charles planned to visit the Cumbria town of Keswick on Friday in a "regal show of support" for flooding victims, Cumbria Tourism announced. Keswick, which was badly hit by the floods, is in the Lake District National Park, a tourist destination popular for its outstanding natural beauty.

The prince planned to meet Keswick residents and business owners, then take part in a ceremony to turn on the town's Christmas lights, the tourism group said.

Cumbria Tourism said the floods triggered a wave of visitor cancelations at what is a peak time in the region's tourism calendar. But most of the region was actually unaffected by the bad weather and is "well and truly open for business," it said.

The prince planned Saturday to visit the nearby town of Cockermouth, which was inundated by floodwaters after the rivers Cocker and Derwent burst their banks.

Cockermouth suffered the worst flooding in Cumbria, with 885 properties flooded, the Cumbria County Council said Thursday. It said 240 properties were flooded in Keswick and 66 were flooded in Workington, where Barker died.

Both of Workington's bridges were affected by the floods -- one was washed away and the other has been declared unsafe. That has cut the town in two, forcing residents to take a lengthy detour to reach the other side of the river.

The British Army is now working on building a temporary footbridge to span the river, the county council said. It should be finished by Sunday and open to the public by next weekend, the council said.

"Installing a footbridge is the simplest and quickest immediate solution to span the river Derwent," the council said in a statement. "Engineers are still exploring options on road connections over the river, but at this stage the immediate priority is, link the two communities."

Funding for the bridge is coming from the British government as part of its £1 million ($1.6-million) recovery package, the county council said.

The bridge situation in Workington also is being seen throughout the county and will be one of the lasting problems created by the floods.

Structural engineers have been inspecting 1,300 of the county's 1,800 bridges, the county council said. Seven of the bridges collapsed in the floods, and many others are still closed because of safety concerns, the council said.