Stormy weather has left thousands of homes without power and transport networks in chaos amid battering winds and severe flood warnings.
The Environment Agency has seven severe flood warnings in place – meaning a “danger to life” – covering much of the south coast of England from Cornwall to Dorset.
Western Power Distribution said about 44,000 customers in the South West had been affected by power cuts since yesterday and 5,000 homes remained without power.
In response to the storms, Prime Minister David Cameron is to chair a meeting of Cobra – the civil contingencies committee that leads responses to national crises.
“I’ll be chairing a Cobra today to ensure all that can be done is being done over the latest storms, flooding and power cuts,” Mr Cameron tweeted.
Weather forecasters MeteoGroup said the strongest gusts overnight were at Berry Head in Devon with speeds hitting 91mph.
The Met Office said yellow warnings of rain were in place for parts of Scotland, the East of England, London and the South East, the South West, Wales and the West Midlands.
“It will continue to be very windy. We can expect to see gusts of 60mph-70mph quite widely across parts of South Wales, Devon and Cornwall, Somerset, Dorset, those sorts of areas,” a spokeswoman said.
Rail services across the South West have also been badly disrupted.
In Dawlish, between Exeter and Cornwall, a section of seawall under the coastal railway line collapsed and two people had to be rescued from a car.
First Great Western said all lines between Exeter St Davids and Penzance had been closed but was hopeful services would resume this morning.
Western Power Distribution said winds of up to 80mph had caused “airborne debris” to fly into overhead lines, causing power cuts.
A spokesman said around 200 engineers worked through the night to repair the damage.
Residents were evacuated from 30 flooded houses in Kingsand, Cornwall, and Tamar Coastguard Rescue Team helped rescue “a number of people”.
There was further flooding in Looe, where people have been advised to stay away from the seafront amid fears of huge waves.
The bad weather continues hours after the Prince of Wales said the “tragedy” on the flood-hit Somerset Levels is that “nothing happened for so long”.
Charles made the remarks as he met farmers, flood victims and emergency services personnel affected by the continuing disaster.
He pledged a £50,000 donation to support flood victims, with the Duke of Westminster matching the funding with an additional £50,000.
Charles’s comments came amid growing anger over a perceived lack of Government action to help flood-hit areas on the Levels.
Residents have begged the Environment Agency to start dredging, with many complaining they are living in “third world” conditions with “overflowing” septic tanks.
The prince was recorded by ITV News making the comments during a reception of 80 people in the village of Stoke St Gregory.
“There’s nothing like a jolly good disaster to get people to start doing something,” the prince said. “The tragedy is that nothing happened for so long.”
The Somerset Levels suffered “once in 100 years” flooding in July 2012, but has endured even worse conditions since December.
The prince’s reception in Somerset was in stark contrast to that of Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, who drew criticism for arriving at Northmoor last week in a pair of smart city shoes.
Environment Agency boss Lord Smith has also come under fire from some in the area who believe that river dredging by the agency could have reduced the scale of the flooding.
Homes were evacuated on the seafront at Torcross in Devon as the high tide smashed the fronts of four properties.
A spokesman for South Hams District Council said: “Our teams have been down there since early this morning trying to make sure people are safe as possible in the circumstances.
“The properties were evacuated because there was danger from broken glass and further damage caused by the breaking rollers.
“We also have unconfirmed reports that there may be a breach in the sea defences and that the rebuilt road in front of Slapton Ley is threatened. We are awaiting reports back from our engineer at the scene.”
Avon and Somerset Police were warning motorists to only make journeys if it is absolutely essential – due to bad weather that is sweeping through the area.
“High winds and driving rain are making driving conditions difficult across Somerset – particularly in the Taunton area where the A38 and A358 have been affected by fallen trees and other debris,” a force spokesman said.
“Many roads in the area are impassable because of trees and branches, which have fallen due to the high winds.
“Other roads also have surface water which is making driving conditions difficult as heavy rain sweeps through the whole of the Avon and Somerset Police force area.
“There are queues and congestion on many roads throughout the Somerset area and we are urging people to only make essential journeys.
“Those who have to travel on the roads are being urged to plan their journey in advance, anticipate delays and also listen to news broadcasts and bulletins on local radio stations about closed roads or where there is severe traffic congestion.
“If you are travelling, avoid small isolated lanes and roads which go across low-lying land and are near to watercourses and drainage channels and prone to flooding.
“Motorists should not attempt to drive through floodwater where there can be many hidden threats, including pot holes, cambers and roadside ditches and watercourses.
“Also avoid parking near to roadside watercourses.”
Meanwhile, in Devon and Cornwall police were warning residents to stay away from coastal areas.
“Multi-agency teams are working across the region to deal with a large amount of calls relating to road debris, damage to property and flooding,” a police spokesman said.
“The train track and railway station at Dawlish has suffered severe damage overnight and high tide is currently being experienced in the area.
“Police would ask anyone planning to travel to Dawlish in order to look at the scene to refrain and allow responders to do everything possible to help local residents.
“People are also asked to stay away from coastal areas where waves may well cause damage to vehicles.”
Police said that The Hoe is Plymouth was experiencing large waves and damage to some properties.
“We are currently working with the local authority to make the area as safe as possible,” the spokesman said.
“There remains a host of minor road closures throughout the region due to road debris and fallen trees.
“Motorists are warned to expect the unexpected on rural roads and drive according to road conditions.
“Flood water should also be avoided and speeds should be lowered on the region’s main road network.”
Asked whether Mr Cameron’s decision to chair Cobra was a reflection of concern about the way Mr Paterson has been handling the crisis, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman told a Westminster media briefing: “Not in the slightest. The Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, is doing an excellent job.”
The Prime Minister had decided to take personal charge of the latest meeting of Cobra – which has met on a daily basis for most of the flooding period – because of the scale of last night’s storms, which had inflicted disruption affecting ministries across the Government, including the Department for Transport and Department for Energy and Climate Change, as well as Mr Paterson’s Environment Department, said the spokesman.
“We saw last night more severe storm weather which has had a significant impact on power supplies,” said the spokesman. “It’s also had an impact on transport infrastructure, particularly the railway line from Exeter into Cornwall, as well as of course impact on flooding, including on areas that are already suffering from flooding.
“So it will an opportunity for the Prime Minister to be able to get the very latest on what is being done in all of those areas.”
The spokesman said that 60,000 homes had been reconnected to power supplies overnight, and that 8,000 which remained cut off were expected to be reconnected over the course of the day.
“There’s an impact on power, which of course is an area which DECC lead on,” he said. “There is an impact on railway infrastructure, which is a DfT lead, and of course you have an impact in terms of flooding and the like. So you have impacts as a result of severe weather in a number of areas across Government.
“Given that, and given the fact that there is a further forecast for later in the week for more severe weather, which could again impact on things such as power supplies and transport as well as flooding, I think it’s right that the Prime Minister gets the very latest on the measures that are being taken by a whole series of Government departments.”