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Northern England floods: 200 extra troops deployed to aid rescue efforts

Published 27/12/2015

A man wades through flood waters at Hebden Bridge, where flood sirens were sounded after torrential downpours
A man wades through flood waters at Hebden Bridge, where flood sirens were sounded after torrential downpours
Rescue teams in Whalley, Lancashire, after the area was hit by downpours

The Government has sent a further 200 troops to help the rescue efforts in flood-stricken northern England.

Some 300 military personnel have already been mobilised to help communities in Yorkshire and Lancashire struggling to tackle the flooding caused by "unprecedented" levels or rain in recent days.

Rivers in York, Leeds and Manchester have burst their banks, leaving properties under water and causing hundreds of people to be evacuated from their homes just days after Christmas.

The Government has vowed to review flood defences as the Army was mobilised this morning to help emergency services carry out mass evacuations.

David Cameron chaired a meeting of the Government's emergency Cobra committee on Sunday, discussing the catastrophe with cabinet ministers, military and transport bosses, emergency services leaders and the Environment Agency.

A Number 10 spokesman said: "The Prime Minister praised the work of the emergency services in dealing with this unprecedented event, but recognised this was an incredibly serious situation which had led to some very serious flooding.

"The decision was taken to deploy additional military personnel to ensure those affected by the flooding have the support they need, with 200 personnel being deployed to flood affected areas, alongside the existing 300 already there.

"A further 1,000 military personnel are being held in reserve should the situation worsen."

Emergency financial assistance will also be put in place for affected areas, and homes and businesses damaged by flooding will have access to the same package of support announced for those affected by Storm Desmond.

Earlier, Mr Cameron praised the efforts of the emergency services and said that with the prevalence of such extreme weather events on the rise, investment in flood defences would continue.

He also echoed the promise of Environment Secretary Liz Truss that the Government would review flood defences.

He told the BBC: "Whenever these things happen, you should look at what you've spent, look at what you've built, look at what you're planning to spend, look at what you're planning to build, and ask whether it's in the right places, whether it's enough, whether we're doing everything we can to try and help.

"The flood barriers have made a difference - both the permanent ones and the temporary ones - but it's clear in some cases they've been over-topped, they've been overrun, and so of course we should look again at whether there's more we should do."

Shadow environment secretary Kerry McCarthy said the Government must "drop its complacency" over the need for climate change adaptation.

One of the worst-hit areas was York, where large swathes of the city are under water after the Foss and Ouse rivers topped their banks.

The Ouse is more than 5 metres above its normal summer levels and is predicted to keep rising until lunchtime on Monday, when it is expected to reach 5.3 metres.

Around 500 properties are currently flooded in the city, and 200 military personnel have spent the day stacking sandbags to add to flood defences, and a further 200 troops will arrive in the city later.

The flooding is so bad the council has run out of sandbags and is asking other local authorities to step in to help people protect their homes and businesses.

Hundreds of people in York have been forced to leave their homes and take shelter in emergency rest centres after waters reached record levels and it is thought that thousands of properties are still at risk.

Thousands of homes in northern England have also been left without power, and electricity bosses have asked people to turn off Christmas lights and ration using household appliances to save energy.

The flooding has been caused by "unprecedented" heavy rain across northern England, causing every river in Lancashire to reach a higher level than they have ever been.

Since the start of December many areas in Cumbria have experienced more than two and a half times their expected monthly rainfall, the Met Office said.

Severe flood warnings remain in place in Yorkshire and the North East, with almost 200 flood warnings and alerts across the rest of England and Wales.

The Environment Agency has warned people to be extremely vigilant and prepare for further flooding.

Flood duty manager Alison Baptiste said: "We still have 24 severe flood warnings, meaning a risk to life, in force and river levels in these areas will continue to rise throughout today and tomorrow.

"People in these communities should continue to check their flood risk, prepare for flooding, follow the advice from emergency services and never risk driving through flood water."

The floods have also affected transport links in the North. Some 16 road closures are in effect in Cumbria, while Northern Rail has urged passengers not to travel in Cumbria, East Lancashire and West Yorkshire unless their journey is "absolutely necessary".

Many places have seen record river levels over the past 24 hours, including the River Aire in Leeds, and the rivers Calder and Ribble, affecting places such as Whalley, Hebden Bridge and Ribchester.

Hundreds of homes in Salford were evacuated after the River Irwell burst its banks, but e mergency services in the Greater Manchester have turned their efforts on a recovery operation, with water levels beginning to fall after the rain stopped.

West Yorkshire Police declared a major incident after responding to what it said was the "worst flooding in 70 years" in the area.

Some 100 soldiers were deployed to the county to help emergency services in the hardest hit areas of Calderdale and Leeds.

Dozens of rescues have been carried out across northern England in the last 24 hours, including one in the town of Mytholmroyd, where an elderly man was hauled through the sunroof of his 4x4 by rescuers just as flood waters reached the roof of his vehicle.

North Yorkshire Police Deputy Chief Constable Tim Madgwick asked people not to visit York or Selby until the flood risk has passed.

Mr Madgwick said: "We would advise people not to visit the affected areas of York and Selby at this time of high risk. Many major routes into York and Selby are currently flooded and travel in and around these areas is very challenging.

"Routes that are open and passable are critical to emergency services to access to those who need support. We would ask people who do not need to travel to York, Selby and Selby district to delay their visit until the flood risk has passed."

The force said earlier it had run out of "road closed" signs, writing on Twitter: "Several calls from people that have driven into flood water, we have run out of ROAD CLOSED signs, don't enter flood water, avoid flooded roads."

Despite the dangers, some people appear to have been taking unnecessary risks in the flood waters.

North Yorkshire Police tweeted pictures from CCTV of a person appearing to walk through waist-high flood water, and one of someone kayaking down a flooded street in the Foss Island area of York.

Wildlife has also suffered from the flooding. A flock of sheep was spotted stranded on a ridge next to the flooded River Wharfe between Ulleskelf and Cawood in North Yorkshire, their fields turned into a vast lake.

Engineers have restored power to more than 20,000 homes, but almost 6,000 remain without electricity and may not be reconnected until Monday.

More than 40 generators are being deployed across Lancashire and Greater Manchester to restore power, Electricity North West said.

One of the flooded substations was in Rochdale, which five years ago had its flood defences given a £470,000 upgrade to protect power supplies against a "1-in-200-year" flood.

Mark Williamson, operations director for Electricity North West, said: "We are still asking our customers in Rochdale to reduce their energy use to prevent further power outages while our engineers repair the damage.

"Simple things like turning off your Christmas lights or not using your washing machine or dishwasher for a while would make a huge difference."

News of the flooding has even reach space, where Major Tim Peake passed over the UK earlier today in the International Space Station.

Sending his condolences to those affected by the bad weather back on Earth, he tweeted: "Passed over UK today - thoughts are with all those affected by flooding in northern England."

Judith Blake, the leader of Leeds City Council, said the authority had warned the Government that flooding in Leeds was a "catastrophe waiting to happen".

Ms Blake called for "significant investment" in additional flood defences for the city to prevent future flooding.

She said: "The cost of the damage caused by this event will be considerable and if ever the evidence was needed that cities like Leeds must have the best possible comprehensive flood defences, this is it.

"The council warned the Government, after several near-misses in recent years, that a major flood in Leeds was a catastrophe waiting to happen but the response was slow and not the level of investment we know the city needs for it to be fully protected.

"While now is the time to focus on the wellbeing of our residents and the condition of their properties and possessions, we will again be calling on the Government for further significant investment in additional flood defences for Leeds.

"A preventable disaster like this must never happen again."

The flooding has downed some phone lines in York, including the non-emergency police number 101. The 999 number was not affected, but people trying to dial 101 were advised to call a temporary number, 01609 768 182.

York City Council was also hit, and has set up a temporary phone number and email address - 07500 100 398 and

In Rochdale the council helped evacuate people from flooded care homes and those left without power, providing hot meals and co-ordinating supplies such as bedding and torches.

A number of rest centres were opened and council workers have visited people in their homes to provide support.

The council itself did not escape the bad weather, with flooding at its riverside offices affecting IT systems.

A clean-up operation will continue on Monday, with skips sent to affected areas and vehicles sent out to collect waste from affected properties.

Rochdale Borough Council leader Richard Farnell said: "We had some of the worst flooding in the region but we have also seen a reaction that makes me proud and shows the real community spirit that exists in our borough.

"Even people who had been affected themselves rolled-up their sleeves to help others during what has been a very challenging time.

"We have been working hard with other agencies to deal with the after effects of the devastating floods we saw on Boxing Day but many people have also been out on the streets helping with the clean-up and making sure vulnerable people are safe.

"That is something we are extremely grateful for and I want to send my personal thanks to them for their selfless contributions."

Greater Manchester Police's chief constable, Ian Hopkins, also praised the emergency services and volunteers who he had worked "non-stop" in very difficult conditions to battle the unprecedented flooding.

He said: "A lot of people have been safely evacuated from their homes and thankfully we have not had any reports of serious injuries or fatalities. We have received fantastic support from Bolton and Oldham Mountain Rescue teams who have assisted us in some of the worst hit areas.

"I would also like to thank members of the local communities for their support and the help they have offered throughout the operation."

Mr Hopkins praised farmers who transported people to safety on tractors and others who offered food and drink to emergency services workers.

Urging people to continue to look out for each other, he said: "Your support has made working in these extremely difficult circumstances much easier and it is tough times like these that we really see the great spirit and togetherness of the people of Greater Manchester.

"We are very much in the recovery phase and there are still thousands of people without power so there is still much to do and our thoughts remain with those who have been affected most."

This evening the Environment Agency (EA) had 24 severe flood warnings in place in the North East, along with 96 flood warnings and 92 flood alerts across Wales and the rest of England.

The recent heavy rainfall, which fell on saturated ground, has led to unprecedented river levels in Yorkshire, the EA said. Many rivers have seen their highest levels ever recorded.

At Sowerby Bridge, the River Calder reached 3.55 metres on Boxing Day, more than a metre higher than the previous highest recorded level of 2.43m, which was recorded in 2012.

At Armley in Leeds the River Aire reached 5.2 metres today, nearly 1.2m higher than the previous highest level of 4.03m, which was recorded in the year 2000.

Ms Baptiste said: "Our thoughts are with all those who have suffered serious flooding to their homes and businesses over Christmas and those who face the risk of further flooding over the coming days.

"We still have severe flood warnings, meaning a risk to life, in force for parts of Yorkshire and river levels in some areas will continue to rise throughout today and tomorrow.

"People in these communities should continue to check their flood risk, prepare for flooding, follow the advice from emergency services and never risk driving through flood water.

"Environment Agency staff will continue to work around the clock to help reduce the potential impacts of flooding and support those communities affected."

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