With experts warning that some flooded areas of southern Britain could remain underwater until May, and more storms still expected to hit the country before brighter weather returns, the Environment Agency moved to reassure citizens that flooding is unlikely to spead to further parts of the country.
For those who have already seen their homes and their livelihoods suffer, however, the bad news is that the floods affecting them are expected to persist – and many will be left wondering how much worse it can get.
The storms could knock as much as £13.8bn off the value of the UK economy, one expert warned. Richard Holt, of Capital Economics, said the area at risk represented around 13 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product. A month’s loss of output in those areas would reduce GDP by just over 1 per cent, he added.
Almost 6,000 properties have been flooded in the UK since the start of the storms in December, and thousands more homes could yet suffer.
Jeremy Benn, founder of the JBA engineering consultancy, said: “There is a possibility that several thousand more properties could flood if the weather does not improve – but this is much less than if this weather had occurred 20 or even 10 years ago.
“The cost of flooding can be of the order of £30,000 per house – and even more for businesses – so the current flooding is probably going to cost hundreds of millions in terms of direct damage, plus the cost of clearing up and disruption to business,” Mr Benn added.
The River Severn, which is causing flooding in large sections of Worcester, is heading for a “second peak” that might push it “slightly higher”, Environment Agency head of incident management John Curtin warned.
“The Thames is stabilising and we will start to see a drop but then the level is likely to bounce back to its current level on Sunday after the rain,” he said. “The Somerset Levels are staying full, with the pumping just keeping it level.”
Mr Curtin did not want to name any specific areas that are most at risk.
Within those areas already flooded, experts said thousands more properties face a high risk of being inundated with water – and the Environment Agency warned the situation is “likely to get worse before it gets better”.
“We are likely to get heavy rainfall in other parts of the country over the weekend – in the North-west and North-east – but that shouldn’t create the same problems because the ground there isn’t waterlogged,” Mr Curtin said.
The Environment Agency’s flood risk forecast for the next three days gave a particularly strong warning for houses in the Thames Valley.
“River levels remain particularly high in the River Thames in Windsor and Maidenhead and Surrey for (at least) the next three days, as the river reacts to recent and forecast rainfall. This brings a high flood risk from river flooding in these areas. Impacts are expected to include widespread flooding affecting significant numbers of properties and whole communities and significant disruption to travel,” the forecast stated.
Dave Throup, the Environment Agency’s manager for Herefordshire and Worcestershire, told the Gloucester Citizen that “unbelievable torrential rain” was being pushed back through the area on the back of a fresh storm.