Owen Paterson loses key crisis role as weather chaos grows
David Cameron ordered the Environment Agency to abandon its opposition to river dredging yesterday, as he pledged an extra £100m for England's flood defences this year.
In an attempt to stamp his authority on the crisis, the Prime Minister also announced that he had replaced the Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, at the helm of the Government's Cobra emergency flood committee.
Labour claimed the Prime Minister's intervention was a "humiliation" for former Northern Ireland Secretary Mr Paterson, who has previously chaired the Cobra meetings and who has faced heavy criticism for his handling of the emergency.
However, the Government later claimed Mr Paterson had been forced to pull out of Cobra to have emergency surgery on a detached retina.
The situation in the south-west worsened yesterday, after storms caused a section of the sea wall in Dawlish, Devon, to collapse, leaving the railway to Cornwall suspended in mid-air.
Residents were evacuated from 30 flooded houses in Kingsand, Cornwall, and up to 35 homes affected in Looe, with residents advised to stay away from the seafront amid fears of huge waves.
Devon and Cornwall Police warned residents to stay away from coastal areas as it dealt with a large number of calls relating to road debris, damage to property and flooding.
Devon County Council staff were working flat-out to deal with the aftermath of the storms, having received more than 300 calls overnight.
The EA said that since Friday, around 328 homes had been flooded, while more than 122,600 had been protected.
Since early December, flood schemes have defended more than 1.2 million homes and businesses, and protected nearly 2,500 sq kms of farmland across England.