As the flooding crisis across the south was the subject of braying argument and counterargument in the House of Commons today, a union has revealed that the Environment Agency was forced to withdraw its staff from one of the worst-affected villages because of “abuse” from locals.
It was reported that the incident took place on Monday in Wraysbury, Berkshire, which has been subjected to a number of visits from politicians in recent days, and the GMB union said it should be blamed on “irresponsible” comments made by the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.
Though David Cameron last night hailed the “brilliant job” being done on the ground by agency officials, GMB national officer Justin Bowden said they were “bearing the brunt” after repeated criticisms from ministers.
He said: “This report of hostility from the residents on the Thames is a direct result of the irresponsible attack by Eric Pickles (Communities Secretary) and others on the EA.
“His incitement has led to the very people on the frontline who are actually helping to alleviate the situation bearing the brunt of people's frustrations.
“For more than seven weeks since Christmas the Environment Agency's staff have been run ragged helping and supporting the victims of flooding. GMB members have been working double and triple shifts around the clock to protect and assist.”
The GMB said the Prime Minister had repeatedly refused to say whether he would halt planned redundancies at the agency, grants to which have been “cut in real terms by more than a quarter over the past three years”.
The Environment Agency confirmed that staff had been “temporarily withdrawn” on Monday after “some of our staff faced verbal abuse whilst working in Wraysbury”.
A spokesperson told The Independent: “Our staff were back in Wraysbury yesterday and again today, working alongside members of the community and colleagues from other agencies as part of the continuing effort to deal with this exceptional period of weather and flooding.”
Meanwhile, exhausted Wraysbury homeowners today said they had been forced to take matters into their own hands in a desperate bid to save their community from succumbing to flood water.
Flooding in England
Flooding in England
1/20 Flooding in Shepperton
The Three Horseshoes Pub in Shepperton. Properties along the Thames Valley were affected by power cuts as the river burst its banks
2/20 Flooding in Shepperton
People wade through floodwaters in Thames Meadow, near Shepperton
3/20 Flooding in Shepperton
Sandbags to stop flooding at the Warren Lodge Hotel in Shepperton
4/20 Flooding in Shepperton
A Land Rover drives along a flooded street in Shepperton
5/20 Flooding in Shepperton
Dr James Andrews was stranded in his home without electricity since Sunday, but he was rescued yesterday by soldiers
6/20 Flooding in Shepperton
Soldiers from the Royal Engineers pull a boat through floodwaters in Thames Meadow, near Shepperton
7/20 Flooding in Shepperton
Many residents' homes in Shepperton are now only accessible by boat.
8/20 Flooding in Bridgwater
Water surrounds flooded propeties in the village of Moorland on the Somerset Levels near Bridgwater
9/20 Flooding in Chertsey
A resident wades through the floodwater that has swept into Chertsey, which lies just west of London
10/20 Flooding in Wraysbury
Firefighters driving through flooding in Wraysbury, Berkshire
11/20 Flooding in Wraysbury
In the normally tranquil village of Wraysbury, residents have rallied round after houses were swamped by floods
12/20 Flooding in Wraysbury
Services personnel assist in the evacuation of a family from their home in Wraysbury
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Members of Royal Berkshire Fire & Rescue squad evacuate a family
14/20 Flooding in Wraysbury
Floodwater reaches a children's playground in Wraysbury
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Labour party leader Ed Miliband talks with resident Peter Horner
16/20 Flooding in Wraysbury
A member of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers leads his vehicle through flood water in Wraysbury
17/20 Flooding in Worcester
The Severn View Hotel in Worcester surrounded by flood water
18/20 Flooding in Worcester
Swans swimming through a flooded car park at Worcester Racecourse
19/20 Flooding in Datchet
Residents carry sandbags to protect their property from the floods, in the centre of the village of Datchet
20/20 Flooding in Datchet
A man is pulled in a kayak through a flooded street in the village of Datchet
Residents in the Surrey town of Egham say they are exasperated that their pleas for help from the local authorities appear to be falling on deaf ears.
Members of the military were brought in this morning to dispatch sandbags to some of the areas considered most prone to flooding, while police boats from Sussex were also primed to evacuate the most vulnerable.
The assistance came too late for those in the Pooley Green residential area of the town, where flood water - filthy with faeces from the sewers - lapped around the thighs of some homeowners.
Resident Mark Franks said: “We've got the military now, which is great, but we have not seen a soul here from the authorities.
“I've spoken to the council and the water companies but they have done nothing.
“We said we needed help and raised the alarm at an early stage, but we've seen more journalists here than council, Environment Agency and water staff.”
Elsewhere, residents took the initiative, with two men digging an eight-foot trench into the sodden soil in an attempt to drain stagnant water at the mouth of an estate into a vacant gully.
One of the voluntary workers, who gave his name as Craig, said: “There are 30 houses under one foot of water and it is getting worse.
“There are a lot of elderly people living around here so we needed to act now because nobody else is.
“If the residents ourselves don't do something then we risk losing these houses to the water.”
A short distance down the road, people living in sheltered accommodation were evacuated to safety, while others took the decision to leave after Monday's heavy rainfall.
Those stoically remaining in their homes - despite police advice to leave - paid for private pumping crews to shift the water from their street. But one of the two pumps broke and the operation lost impact.
One of those affected, mother-of-three Suhair Al-Fouadi, said she woke up at 7am today to find her home under a foot of water.
“I just shouted 'Oh my god' and got my children up,” she said.
“I tried to prepare for this, I bought £100 of sand and I called the council.
“But they would do nothing. Now I have water from the sewer coming in through my doors.
Those in the worst-hit part of the town praised the military for coming to their aid, providing sandbags and offering assistance to the most vulnerable.
One man, who asked not to be named, said some locals were insistent on “council bashing”, and said the real responsibility lay with the Environment Agency.
He said: “The council staff are doing all they can, we know they are working hard.
“It comes down to the River Thames not being dredged for so long. If the EA did something about it then maybe we wouldn't be in this mess.”
Runnymede councillor David Knight, whose ward is in Egham, praised those who had pitched in to help.
He added: “People are working together, being neighbourly - that's wonderful to see and a great help.
“But we are dealing with something sent from nature.”
Additional reporting by PA