£2m campaign to warn public of flood dangers

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FOUR MILLION Britons face a severe threat of being flooded, yet 95 per cent are either blissfully unaware or unprepared, the Environment Agency says today. Floods killed 21 people last year, wrecked thousands of homes and caused more than £400m of damage, much of it uninsured, in April alone.

FOUR MILLION Britons face a severe threat of being flooded, yet 95 per cent are either blissfully unaware or unprepared, the Environment Agency says today. Floods killed 21 people last year, wrecked thousands of homes and caused more than £400m of damage, much of it uninsured, in April alone.

With these stark statistics, the agency has launched a £2m, three-year awareness campaign to try to prevent a recurrence of the devastation that swept the country last year. After being severely criticised for failing to issue sufficient warnings before those floods, the agency has responded with a vow to issue two-hour alerts where possible.

The danger of floods becomes all the more real each year because of global warming, the agency warned. Scientists estimate that an increase of 1C to 3C in air temperature by 2050 will raise sea levels by 10cm to 50cm. "Predictions are that global warming could lead to wetter winters and more frequent storms, with serious flooding becoming a reality for more people," a spokesman said.

Despite a recognised fear of fire, those in high-risk areas were far more likely to be affected by floods, the agency said. People rarely recognised the power of icy floods: 15cm of flowing water can knock someone off their feet while half a metre can float a car.

The agency announced today that 1.3 million homes and businesses in England and Wales were at risk if water levels increased. Owners of the 300,000 homes most at danger will be receiving a warning letter, which asks them not to be alarmed but to prepare for the eventuality.

Areas that have had particular problems with flooding over the past few years are central and East Anglia, north Buckinghamshire, north Devon and large parts of the Midlands, Wales, the North-east and North-west. It is estimated that a severe flood in London could cripple the capital - disrupting communications and transport, causing £30bn of damage and threatening its position as Europe's dominant financial centre.

The campaign was launched at the beginning of Flood Awareness Week by Elliot Morley, the minister for Flood and Coastal Defence; Ed Gallagher, chief executive of the Environment Agency; and the broadcaster Michael Buerk.

As well as an advertising campaign and the issuing of information packs, the initiative will see the launch of Floodline, a telephone service offering advice and carrying 24-hour recorded summaries of flood warnings.

Mr Gallagher said: "New technology means we can be much clearer about which households are likely to be affected.

"Simple actions such as taking out adequate insurance, protecting vital documents, clearly marking where gas and electricity power switches need to be turned off, preparing family flood plans and moving valuable items such as photographs and jewellery out of the reach of flood water can help to minimise the long-term effects of flood."

The Floodline number is 0845 988 1188.

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