UK weather: Batten down the hatches, Owen Paterson warns, as country faces 'exceptional weather'

Extreme weather set to continue through the weekend

Environment Editor

The extreme weather is set to continue, with driving rain, gale-force winds and high tides forecast to batter the UK on Friday and into the weekend, the Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has warned.

Advising Britons to batten down the hatches, Mr Paterson said the country was facing “exceptional weather”, as the Environment Agency issued 20 severe flood warnings across the south-west coast – the highest-level warning, defined as being so severe that it puts lives at risk.

After a stormy 10-day period in which more than 130,000 homes have already been flooded across the country, the agency had 186 flood warnings in place on Thursday night – where flooding is expected and remediate action recommended immediately. These are mainly in Wales, the South-east, the Midlands and the North-west.

A further 233 “flood alerts”, indicating a possibility of flooding, were also issued.

Government cutbacks will affect the Environment Agency’s ability to cope with flooding in the future its Chief Executive, Paul Leinster has warned. The agency could lose 15 per cent of its workforce because of budget cuts.  “Flood risk maintenance will be impacted,” he said in a recent interview with environmental media outlet The Ends Report.

The threat of floods is so severe that Mr Paterson on Thursday chaired a meeting of Cobra, the committee that brings together ministers, civil servants and others such as the police and Environment Agency at times of danger.

 

“The Environment Agency and local authorities are working hard in areas that could be affected and are  ...ready to take any necessary actions,” Mr Paterson said. “I urge everyone in affected areas to sign up to the Environment Agency flood warnings and follow the advice they issue to protect themselves and their properties”.

Peter Fox, the agency’s head of strategy, said: “We are expecting flooding along the west and south coasts of England and Wales, due to a combination of strong winds, large waves and high tides, from the early hours of Friday and into the weekend.” He added: “Coastal paths and promenades could be highly dangerous as there is an increased risk of being swept out to sea. People are warned to stay away from the shoreline.”

As the prospect of further flooding loomed on Thursday, the search for a man washed out to sea was called off after the discovery of a body on the beach at Porthleven in Cornwall.

A 27-year-old man, from Surrey, disappeared early on New Year’s Day after he was hit by a powerful wave at Loe Bar near Porthleven. Police said formal identification has yet to take place.

Inspector Ian Milligan of Devon and Cornwall Police said: “The male was part of a group on holiday, five of whom went for a night swim. It was only when the other swimmers returned to the beach that they realised their friend was not with them.”

Separately, a woman drowned in the sea near Croyde, north Devon, on Tuesday. It is thought she had been swimming or surfing. The Coastguard is also searching for a man thought to have fallen into the River Stour, in Christchurch, Dorset.

The River Towy burst its banks in Carmarthen in Wales on Thursday morning, flooding a road. And in Liphook, Hampshire, 300 homes lost power after stormy weather brought down lines, although this left the number of houses without electricity well down on a peak of 300,000 over Christmas.

A man was taken to hospital on Tuesday after a tree fell on his car on the A21 in Orpington just after 5pm, and a number of people had to be rescued when a building partly collapsed in Hendon an hour earlier.

Should the heavy rainfall turn to snow storms this winter, MPs have said there should be a publicity campaign telling people that they should not avoid shovelling snow because of legal concerns.

In the past, some have been reluctant to help clear snow because they were afraid that they would be legally liable if anyone then slipped over on the patch they cleared.

The Department of Transport has a snow code that says: “it’s unlikely you’ll be sued or held legally responsible for any injuries if you have cleared the path carefully” because people out walking have a responsibility to tread carefully.

But in a report published today, the Commons all-party Transport Committee says that not enough is done to publicise the code. Launching the report, Louise Ellman, who chairs the Transport Committee, urged: “More should be done to keep pavements clear of ice and snow. A national advertising campaign should highlight that the public can clear snow and ice from outside their homes without fear of legal action and should consider doing so.”

Weather watch: How the forecast is looking

Friday

Further wet and windy conditions likely across the UK. Tides will be very high across the South West. North West England, Wales and South West and Southern England will also experience severe flooding.

Saturday

Less windy across the UK. South-east England and East Anglia will have locally heavy rain while scattered showers will affect western areas. It will be generally fine elsewhere.

Sunday

After some showers in southern Britain, the wind will strengthen again and heavy rain will sweep across the UK. Western areas expected to be the worst hit.

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