Belfast Telegraph

More rain and storms to hit Britain

Communities across Britain are facing more flooding misery as further heavy rain and storms batter the country.

A triple threat from the elements, with warnings in place for heavy rainfall, gale-force winds and snow, will pile on the problems for areas already struggling in the wake of record wet weather and a string of wild winter storms.

More than 1,000 homes have been evacuated in the Thames Valley and the West Country, and others have been left without electricity.

Ongoing flooding could continue to affect homes, businesses and land for at least another week, the Environment Agency said.

The Met Office predicted a return to the worst of the winter weather with almost every pocket of the UK experiencing downpours, winds or snow, much of it falling on already-saturated ground.

The agency has 23 severe flood warnings - meaning risk to life - in force along the River Thames, the Severn at Gloucester, on the Somerset Levels and on the south coast, and hundreds more flood warnings and alerts across England and Wales.

Windsor, Maidenhead, parts of Surrey and communities in Buckinghamshire, West Berkshire and Reading are at risk from the River Thames, which has seen levels rise to 60-year highs, and significant flooding is expected.

Severe gales, large waves and high sea levels are threatening coastal flooding on the Dorset coast, while the south coast from Cornwall to East Sussex is also at an increased risk, the Environment Agency said.

And with further rainfall today and Saturday, communities are also facing flooding in the south west of England, along the Stour and Medway in Kent and along the River Severn in Gloucestershire and Worcestershire.

Saturated ground could lead to flooding around Croydon, Hambledon, Basingstoke and Lower Farringdon in Hampshire.

Peter Willison, of the Environment Agency (EA), told a Whitehall briefing: "We are likely to see more severe flood warnings along the south coast representing the risk from very strong and big waves.

"The rainfall that we will see today, that will bring river levels back up on the Thames and we expect levels on slow responding rivers like the Thames, like the Severn, to stay high for a number of days to come.

"This remains a very live event. I expect we will see further property flooding."

Firefighters on the Somerset Levels are asking parents to keep children away from flood water and in Dorset, members of the public are being urged to stay away from coastal areas this weekend as violent storms batter beaches, cliffs and promenades.

The extreme conditions will also increase the likelihood of landslips along the Jurassic Coast, posing a real threat to people on coastal paths, clifftops and beaches.

Many train services were disrupted this evening, with East Coast train company urging people to complete their journeys on the line as early as possible, as winds of up to 70mph are expected.

Speed restrictions were imposed on many southern England services where landslips have added to the flooding problems. Passengers were advised journeys could take up to 60 minutes longer tonight.

More temporary flood defences are being deployed across the Thames Valley, including at Chertsey in Surrey to protect up to 200 homes and at Staines in Berkshire, to protect around 150 homes.

The military has come to the aid of the most vulnerable as the crisis has deepened, with transport links disrupted and whole streets cut off as flood water rises to waist level in the worst-affected areas.

Major General Patrick Sanders, Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff (Operations), said 2,200 armed forces personnel were taking part in the flood relief operation, with a further 3,000 on stand-by.

Maj Gen Sanders said the tasks the troops had been undertaking had included filling sandbags, helping the elderly in and out of their flooded homes, and taking children to school, while a group of vehicle mechanics from the Household Cavalry Regiment had even rescued a swan.

The Duke of Cambridge and his brother Prince Harry joined colleagues from the armed forces in helping with the supply of sandbags to defend Datchet, Berkshire.

The Queen has even shown her support for Somerset farmers affected by the flooding on the Somerset Levels by contributing feed and bedding from the royal farms at Windsor, a spokesman for Buckingham Palace said.

Chief fire and rescue adviser Peter Holland said 70% of England's fire and rescue services are involved in the flood and storm relief effort.

Mr Holland assured communities that fire engines were still available to tackle fires and that most of the diverted resources involves specialist equipment such as boats and water pumps.

He said over 1,000 people have been rescued so far and Scottish fire services may be called in to the North of England if needed.

He said:"Over 70% of fire and rescue services are involved in the operation. That's actually going to increase over the next 12 hours, more vehicles are going to be called in as more pumping can take place particularly in the Thames area.

"But I do want to reassure people that there are still plenty of fire engines in their local communities to respond to fires while this operation is taking place."

The EA confirmed it had suspended plans to axe hundreds of jobs, as staff battle the elements alongside emergency services and local authorities, although concerns remained they would press ahead with redundancies after the flood waters receded.

Some 17,000 people were still without power in North Wales, 48 hours after storms with winds of up to 108mph, in which one man was killed and hundreds stranded as transport networks were hit.

Prime Minister David Cameron said he is "very sorry" for the suffering caused by the extreme weather afflicting large swathes of the country , and repeated his pledge that "money is no object" in the relief effort.

Since early December, 5,800 properties have been flooded across the country.

Leading economist and climate expert Lord Stern has said the record rainfall and storm surges the UK had experienced were a "clear sign" the country was already experiencing the impacts of climate change.

The UK needs long-term action on climate change to reduce the risk of future floods, the Green Party said as it called for climate change sceptic Cabinet ministers and senior officials, including Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, to be removed from their posts.

Green Party politicians also called for a ll staff cuts at the Environment Agency to be cancelled, increased spending on flood defences and planning rules to be strengthened to prevent further development on flood plains.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, who has chaired a Cobra meeting, vowed to deploy further police and military personnel "where needed".

He said: " I have been updated on the weather conditions, which will remain very challenging over the weekend with more high winds and rainfall.

"In addition there is an increased flood risk to the South Coast overnight and work has been continuing there to improve defences and inform people.

"All agencies are working effectively together on the ground and where needed extra police and military personal are being made available. Work also continues to keep our road and rail networks operating.

"Power has been restored by energy companies today to over half a million homes and work is going on in North Wales to get the remainder of people reconnected. I applaud the efforts of staff who have reconnected so many homes so quickly, often in very difficult conditions.

"I want to reassure the public that we are working tirelessly to ensure that everyone gets the support and help they need."

The shipping containers installed at the site of the broken seafront railway in Dawlish, south Devon have been breached - leaving homes vulnerable to flooding.

The containers, which are full of ballast, had been welded together as a temporary flood defence in place of the broken sea wall.

An 80 metre stretch of the railway line, which connects the West Country to the rest of the UK, was originally washed away in fierce storms last week. The railway line was expected to be closed for at least six weeks.

Homes in the Devon resort have also been evacuated as a precaution, the police chief for South Devon said.

Superintendent Claire Ames tweeted: "Some houses in Dawlish evacuated to ensure safety of residents due to winds and high tide - all being looked after by @Teignbridge thank you."

Meanwhile rail operator First Great Western said that all trains west of Plymouth had been suspended because of severe weather conditions.

"No alternative road transport because of road conditions," the company said on its Twitter feed.

"Services unlikely to be running in Cornwall until after 12pm tomorrow as Network Rail will need to inspect the route in daylight."

Services between Newton Abbot and Plymouth have also been suspended due to the weather.

The flood sirens have sounded in Chiswell on Portland, Dorset tonight and residents are being urged to move onto higher ground immediately or at least to the upstairs rooms of seafront properties.

The Environment Agency SW tweeted: "The sirens have sounded for Chiswell. Please do not put yourself at risk, take care and ensure you move to a place of safety. Stay safe."

Dorset Police had previously warned that should the sea breach Chiswell Beach the siren will sound.

"The siren indicates that flooding will be severe with extreme risk to people and property," a police spokesman said.

"If the siren sounds, you should take family and pets to a room upstairs away from the seaward side of the building."

The coastguard has pleaded for people to stay away from breaking waves after rescuing people trapped in cars in Slapton Road at Torcross, Devon.

The Brixham Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre received a call from a member of the public reporting that people were putting themselves in danger at a car park between Torcross and Slapton Sands.

With very rough seas and gale force winds coastguard rescue officers from the teams based in Dartmouth and Prawle went to the scene where they rescued four people from two cars before the cCoastguard vehicle itself became stuck in Slapton Road.

None of the people who were rescued needed medical attention but the coastguard vehicle will need to be checked by a mechanic.

Dave Scullion, Brixham Coastguard watch manager, said: "We have storm force winds around the south west tonight and rough seas that are generating waves that are breaking over roads.

"For their own safety and the safety of the rescue services we would ask everyone to stay away from seafronts until this wild weather abates.

"If you do get into difficulty, or spot someone who might be in trouble, call 999 and ask for the coastguard."


From Belfast Telegraph