UK weather: Army scrambled as flooded Thames Valley sees record river gauges and cancelled train services – and it hasn’t even started raining yet
Met Office issues severe weather warnings for storms all week - including wind, rain and snow alerts covering the entire of the UK on Wednesday
Thousands of homes are under threat, train services have been cancelled and the Marines called in to the Thames Valley, ahead of forecasts for yet more storms to hit Britain later today.
This afternoon the Met Office issued severe weather warnings to cover the entirety of the rest of the week - and on Wednesday every part of the UK will be affected, with gales in excess of 80mph in the south west, heavy rain across the south and east and significant snowfall in the north.
While two severe flood warnings remained in place for the stricken Somerset Levels, 14 new alerts in the most serious category – meaning real danger to life and property – have been issued across a long stretch of the River Thames.
Several gauges along the river are now showing their highest levels since being installed in the 1980s and 90s, the BBC reported, as water seeps through from the saturated Thames catchment area.
The most vulnerable are reportedly being evacuated from their homes, as military personnel from the Marines and Army worked throughout the weekend to deploy sandbags and build up makeshift river defences.
It all comes as forecasters warned of yet another set of storms to hit Britain later tonight, bringing heavy rain up to 40mm (2ins) for many areas by the end of Thursday.
And with flood waters already at dangerous levels today on what experts said would be the “driest day of the week”, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles warned of “significant” problems to come across the Thames Valley.
Speaking to the BBC, Berkshire councillor Colin Rayner said: “We need help here. We need the police, we need the army. We've got 50 volunteers here, we've got the vulnerable people out of their homes, now we need to get everyone else out.”
With bands of rain forecast to affect the whole country this week, falling as snow on higher ground across northern England, Wales and Scotland, the Environment Agency has around 130 flood warnings and 200 less serious flood alerts in place.
Thames Valley train services have now been affected, with severe flooding in the Berkshire village of Datchet meaning a number of routes south and east of Oxford have been cut off.
National Rail said in a statement that there had also been flooding at a number of locations “between Staines and Windsor and Eton Riverside”. “Because of this, trains are unable to run and a replacement bus service is not available,” it said.
Meanwhile, rail services from London to the south west were still badly diminished after the collapse of a section of track and sea wall at Dawlish in Devon.
Following criticism that National Rail had been “in denial” about the vulnerability of the wall at Dawlish, a spokesperson for the company said: “We must not forget that the storm was unprecedented, and even with predictions of ongoing bad weather as they are, this will not be 'normal' by any means. This is the most destruction to have been caused to the Dawlish sea wall, and the wider area, since Victorian times.”
In the Somerset Levels, which have been flooded since around Christmas, water pumps continue to operate “24/7”, an Environment Agency spokesperson said.
He said: “We're expecting the water levels to rise as the rain comes in, but we're working around the clock,” adding that the agency’s main focus has now shifted to the Thames.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the Energy Secretary Ed Davey warned against ministers using the ongoing floods in political “blame games”.
“The Government is focused on helping the people, the communities, the businesses who are struggling because of this weather, these floods,“ he said this morning.
“The Prime Minister's doing that, I will be doing that and I think the whole Government needs to do that. That has got to be our focus. Blame games I'm afraid are really not the focus.”
Mr Pickles has taken over control of the Government’s emergency flood response after Environment Secretary Owen Paterson had to have emergency eye surgery.
Yesterday he blamed bad Environment Agency advice for the scale of the damage to the Somerset Levels and declined to dismiss calls for the former Labour cabinet minister to resign.
“We made a mistake, there's no doubt about that and we perhaps relied too much on the Environment Agency's advice,” Mr Pickles told BBC1's Andrew Marr Show.
“I am really sorry that we took the advice ... we thought we were dealing with experts.”
Visiting Chesil Beach in the south west today, David Cameron said he backed Mr Pickles' apology but also hailed the work of the Environment Agency staff who “do an amazing job and deserve our support and our thanks”.
Last night he chaired a meeting of the Government's Cobra emergency committee. Appearing afterwards, the Prime Minister said he had “made clear again that every resource is available to the local communities affected”.
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