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Flooding victim 'visiting relative'

A man who died after becoming trapped in his car in floodwater is believed to have been visiting a relative when his 4x4 was swept away crossing a ford.

The Mitsubishi Shogun was completely submerged, wedged under a small wooden bridge at Rectory Fields, in Chew Stoke, Somerset, at 8.50pm on Thursday night.

Fire crews, police and search and rescue teams attended the scene following another night of torrential downpours.

The elderly man was recovered from the water but died of a cardiac arrest on the way to the Bristol Royal Infirmary.

The car was spotted by a local resident, who is thought to have known the man, and phoned the emergency services.

Villagers were in shock following the news of the death.

The ford is known to be dangerous following heavy rain and locals said that the incident was the second time in 24 hours in which a 4x4 had got into trouble crossing the ford.

Rescuers, who used boats, waders and divers in the search for the car, described conditions as "gruelling".

Grandmother Cynthia Troup, who has lived in Chew Stoke for 38 years, said she did not believe the man was local to the village but had been visiting a relative.

"We all go across it, but as locals we don't go over it when it's too deep, we know not to," she said.

"It often, on a very wet day, will be too deep. We treat it with respect, but certainly would never drive through it when it was like this.

"I'm pretty sure it was not somebody local, because they would have known. I've heard it was a relative of somebody local.

"We feel so sorry. It's a real trauma that will take a long time to get over."

Petra Lowe, 43, said it was another resident in Chew Stoke that had spotted the car wedged under the bridge and called the emergency services.

"Somebody in the village was out with their son and realised the car was stuck," she said.

"I don't think that at the time they realised there was anyone in the car, and then they realised there was and they alerted emergency services.

"Due to the bridge, they couldn't get out of the car; however the car was fixed, they couldn't actually get out.

"We live just up around the corner and could hear an awful lot of commotion. He was alive when he got out of the car, I think, but by the time he got to hospital he'd died.

"I have the feeling, by the way everybody is, that whoever found him knew who he was."

Residents of the small, close-knit community said while the ford is prone to flooding they had not seen such bad conditions since the late 1970s or early 1980s.

David Smith, 76, lives next to the ford and said it took just 20 minutes for the flooding to go from being "fairly benign" to the top of his four-foot wall.

"This is the first time we've experienced this kind of flooding. My garage has been flooded twice in 48 hours and we're four foot above the road line," he said.

"The river has three entry points into the road and they sort of come together and cause quite substantial flooding.

"The speed of the water was quite horrendous, it really was, I've seen nothing like it. It shoots under that gully and cascades into the roadway here.

"It's very rapid, because the water comes in from three directions. It's quite dramatic really."

Mr Smith, who has lived in the village for 22 years, said that the incident was the second of its kind in 24 hours.

"About 24 hours ago, a Land Rover came past here and I flagged him down and told him he ought not to try and cross the ford, but he did and he was swept away in the middle of the ford," he said.

"Fortunately, his vehicle was caught by one of the bollards on the road and he was able to climb out of the window on to the roof.

"We tied a rope around him, from my garden, just in case he was swept away and sort of secured him until the fire brigade arrived about 20 minutes later.

"It was a crazy, crazy thing to do."

Search and rescue teams worked in the dark and cold to try to locate the car but said the conditions were "gruelling" and it was near-impossible to get into the water.

Duncan Massey, of Avon and Somerset Search and Rescue, said of the man who died: "It was quite difficult trying to find and locate him.

"We knew where the car was in the water but we couldn't access it. He was out of the vehicle, but we never actually found the car.

"The fire and rescue service were here with boats and waders and swimming people just trying to find where he was and rescue him as best we could.

"It was nearly impossible to get in the water, it was very, very deep, very swift flowing and dark of course.

"It was gruelling, absolutely gruelling, it was cold, wet and it's the middle of November."

The green 4x4 was covered with leaves and mud as it was winched from the stream by an off road forklift truck.

As the car was lifted into the air water streamed out of it.

The rear view window was smashed and a seatbelt was hanging out of the back window.

There was evidence of damage to the body work, the trim on the wheel arch was hanging off and there were scratch marks across the front of the vehicle.

Traffic in the village was temporarily brought to a halt as the car was lifted on to a truck before being taken away.

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