Storm Christoph flooding – Battle to save Oxford Covid vaccine factory at risk of flooding as 2,000 homes evacuated

FIREFIGHTERS are battling to save a factory producing the Oxford Covid vaccine in North Wales from flooding caused by Storm Christoph.

Emergency services raced to Wrexham Industrial Estate last night to protect the jab – as 2,000 homes across England were evacuated following torrential rainfall overnight. 

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The plant has been tasked with making 300 million doses of the vaccine per year but it lies close to the River Dee, which was last night at its highest level ever recorded.

Pharmaceutical firm Wockhardt UK, which runs laboratories and factories on the estate, said it had experienced "mild flooding, resulting in excess water surrounding part of the buildings across site".

A spokeswoman added: "All necessary precautions were taken, meaning no disruption to manufacturing or inlet of water into buildings.

"The site is now secure and free from any further flood damage and operating as normal."

Wrexham Council Leader Mark Pritchard told BBC Radio Wales: "We had an incident at Wrexham Industrial Estate, the Oxford vaccination is produced there and the warehouse where it is stored.

"Obviously I can't tell you where it is, but we had to work in partnership to make sure we didn't lose the vaccinations in the floods.

"I've been up all night… it's a very difficult time for us."

Mr Pritchard told Sky News that severe flooding at the plant "could have had an impact not just in Wrexham, Wales, but across the whole country with the vaccination supplies".

Here's everything we know so far:

  • Around 2,000 properties in the East Didsbury, West Didsbury and Northenden areas of Manchester were evacuated last night amid rising water levels
  • Brits in the areas of Maghull in Merseyside and Ruthin, North Wales were also asked to leave their homes
  • Three "severe" flood warnings remain in place for the River Mersey at Didsbury and Northenden, and in Maghull. Manchester City Council announced that one was stood down this afternoon
  • Another severe flood warning remains active for Bangor on Dee in Wales
  • Boris Johnson left Downing Street by helicopter this morning to visit a storm basin near the River Mersey in Didsbury, Greater Manchester

It comes after firefighters and police evacuated some 2,000 homes and businesses in south Manchester last night – though flood defences kept hundreds of properties dry.

Residents in East Didsbury, West Didsbury and Northenden areas of Greater Manchester were told to leave their homes due to rising water levels, the city council said.

Families in Maghull in Merseyside and Ruthin, North Wales, were also forced out of their homes due to rising floodwaters.

Lee Rawlinson, of the Environment Agency, said that flood basins put in place on the River Mersey in Didsbury had kept properties in the area dry overnight.

He told the BBC: "The top of the river came within centimetres of the top of the river bank but our defences there have served their purpose and kept those properties dry

"But it was very close."

Almost 200 flood warnings remained in place across England on Thursday morning, with four "severe" warnings – meaning danger to life – issued for the North West.

But Manchester City Council this afternoon confirmed the Didsbury area had "avoided the worst-case scenario".

In a statement, the authority said: "Water levels had continued to rise overnight as expected, but the Didsbury Basin did not significantly overflow and the worst-case scenario was avoided.

"However, high water levels have flooded some gardens and some roads remain closed."

Assistant Chief Constable Nick Bailey, Chair of the GM Strategic Coordination Group for Storm Christoph, said Greater Manchester Police had decided to "step down" the major incident declared in Didsbury on Tuesday morning.

But he stressed it "does not mean that we are withdrawing resources from the areas affected and others identified as potentially vulnerable".

Amber and yellow weather warnings remain in force today for Storm Christoph, which is also threatening to bring up to 30cm of snow to northern areas.

And ministers fear the floods could affect the vaccine rollout as they threatened to close vaccination centres and disrupt jab deliveries.

Boris Johnson travelled from London to Manchester by RAF helicopter this morning to visit a storm basin near the River Mersey in Didsbury, Greater Manchester.

He told reporters: "We are very worried, obviously, about the risk of flooding every year."

He thanked the Environment Agency for their "amazing preparations" and the effort to evacuate people overnight, but warned "there will be further rain overnight".

Downing Street said Covid-secure facilities would be available for any people forced to evacuate as a result of the weather.

It comes as torrential rain continues to lash England today, with many rivers at "dangerously high levels", the Environment Agency said.

Met forecaster John Griffiths said Bolton in Greater Manchester recorded the highest rainfall in England at 150.4mm – more than the region's average for the entire month of January.

Locals in Didsbury, Greater Manchester today told of their shock as thousands were evacuated from homes.

Trish Loder said she and her husband had gone to their daughter's house nearby at about 10pm after being warned there was a risk of flooding.

The 68-year-old said: "It was very dramatic. We've lived here for 40 years and I've never seen it this bad."

Gabrielle Burns-Smith, 44, said her home in Lymm, Cheshire, had flooded yesterday afternoon.

She said: "We're still in the house, we can't go anywhere because we can't get the car out, the water is just too deep. Both our living rooms are flooded.

"We managed to get a couple of hours sleep but you almost don't want to go to sleep because you don't know what you'll wake up to."

Aberllefenni, in Wales, has seen the UK's highest amount of rainfall so far during Storm Christoph, with 187.8mm dumped over the last 56 hours, according to the Met Office.

Crai Reservoir in South Wales saw the second highest total, with 115.6mm, and areas in Glamorgan and Cumbria also topped 100mm over the same period.

One person is feared drowned after a body was spotted in the flooded River Taff in Cardiff today.

More than six emergency service vehicles were called to the river bank at Blackweir in the grounds of Cardiff Castle after a walker spotted the body.

South Wales Police say they received a call shortly after 9am this morning from a member of the public alerting them to what appears to be a body in the river.

Rescue teams were scouring the riverbank – but the flooded river was hampering the search.

Meanwhile, RNLI lifeboat volunteers were forced to rescue a dad and two young children from the sea off Llanddwyn Beach in Anglesey, North Wales after the family became trapped by rising waters.

The Environment Agency has issued a further 191 flood warnings across England, with 228 less severe flood alerts, mainly across the Midlands and north of the country.

Almost the whole of England, Wales and Northern Ireland are subject to yellow weather warnings for rain until midday today, with a more serious amber warning stretching from the East Midlands to the Lake District.


The amber alert warns of the risk of flooding and deep floodwaters which could pose a risk to life, and there are further warnings for snow and ice in Scotland.

An amber warning for snow in parts of southern Scotland warned around 30cm could fall in areas above 400m.

Environment secretary George Eustice today told the House of Commons that severe weather was likely to continue in the coming days – but the government was prepared.

He said: "Water levels in the Didsbury flood base have now started to recede, however water will continue to work through the river systems in the North-West and Yorkshire in the coming days.

"More unsettled weather is also expected next week, so we continue to prepare for further impacts."

Met Office forecaster Grahame Madge described Storm Christoph as "quite a slow-moving system" which is bringing "a variety of weather" to the UK.

The meteorologist said: "While rain remains the main hazard in the south, further north we've got snow and ice remaining a risk.

"The system will work its way through, we are expecting significant totals of rainfall and when you combine that with snowmelt it can lead to localised flooding across the affected regions."

There is a risk of further snow later in the week as Storm Christoph makes its way east, with accumulations expected in Scotland, northern England and parts of Northern Ireland, Mr Madge added.

Public Health England (PHE) has issued a cold weather alert for the North East, North West, and Yorkshire and the Humber that began at 9am this morning and lasts until January 25.

Dr Owen Landeg, principal environmental public health scientist at PHE, urged people to "keep looking out" for frail or older neighbours and relatives, particularly those living alone or with a serious illness.

Rail services have also been disrupted on the Northern network after tracks flooded.

There are suspensions on services from Carlisle to Skipton or Maryport, all destinations from Rotherham Central, and between Manchester and Newton le Willows.

Rail services between Warrington Central and Liverpool Lime Street, Altrincham to Chester, and Wigan to Southport are also suspended.

North Yorkshire County Council said more than 15,000 sandbags were at the ready around the county.

Meanwhile, Public Health England (PHE) issued a cold weather alert from "first thing" on Thursday until 9am on January 25 for the North East, North West and Yorkshire and the Humber.

The agency said the risk of flooding will amplify the public health risks of the severe cold weather.

Last night rescue teams worked throughout the night to save a Morrisons delivery van that came stuck on a flooded road.

The County Durham & Darlington Fire & Rescue Service posted a video of the rescue congratulating the crew on rescuing the delivery driver.

Met Office spokesman Oli Claydon said rain is the biggest initial concern – before temperatures plunge and winds pick up later this week.

He described the situation as "a timeline of different hazards as we go through the week".

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