UK weather: David Cameron pledges to visit flood-hit communities amid warnings of more to come


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The Independent Online

David Cameron has pledged to visit “every part of the country” affected by floods as the misery continues for waterlogged parts of England.

Speaking to the BBC from Chertsey, Surrey, the Prime Minister praised the army’s rescue efforts and batted away criticism levelled at the government’s response to the crisis.

He said there had been a “huge, joined-up national effort” but admitted there were some lessons to be learned.

“We will learn the lessons afterwards – right now the key thing is to get as much done as we can in the next few hours,” he added.

“It has been very, very difficult for people and my heart goes out to everyone who has been affected.”

In a statement released after he chaired a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee this evening, he said: "I heard an update on the weather forecast and the likely impact over the days ahead. Thankfully, it does appear that we will see less rain and wind over the next few days.

"However, after so much rain over recent weeks, groundwater levels remain very high and in many places will continue to rise.

"The extent of the extreme weather this winter is clear. The Thames barrier has been in operation for over 30 years and yet one quarter of all its total closures have happened in the last three months. Network Rail have also made clear the size of the task they face in keeping the rail network operating after so much rain and wind.

"I was reassured that all the agencies involved - thousands of people locally and nationally - have made huge efforts over last few days to protect more homes and businesses, with over 3,000 of our troops deployed on task tonight and many hundreds more on standby."

The Thames Barrier has been shut for a record 16th consecutive time to protect communities ahead of more rain expected overnight.

A yellow warning is in place for rainfall in much of England and Wales but winds have eased.

The Environment Agency warned that parts of southern, south west and central England are still at risk of flooding as river levels remain high.

There were 16 severe flood warnings in place on Saturday afternoon – down on 22 earlier in the day – and hundreds of less serious alerts.

The risk will continue over the coming days for the Somerset Levels and Moors, where river levels continue to rise, posing a further threat to communities who have already been underwater for weeks.

The rivers Severn, Wye and Avon are still swelling with recent rainfall.

Paul Leinster, chief executive of the Environment Agency, said: “We continue to see the very real and devastating impacts that flooding can have on communities and business.

“We know the distress that flooding can cause and are doing everything we can to reduce the impacts.”

The Met Office expects conditions to become more settled into next week and has not issued any warnings from Tuesday onwards.

It will be a relief for communities picking up the pieces of hurricane-force winds that tore into parts of the coast on Friday night.

Three people have died so far in the extreme conditions. A woman was crushed in her car by falling masonry in London yesterday evening and a man who was on a cruise ship died when a monster wave smashed through the window. A 77-year-old man, Bob Thomas, was hit by a tree in the garden of his Caernarfon home on Wednesday and died in hospital yesterday.

Diners had to be evacuated from a restaurant when shingle smashed the windows on Friday evening and a sinkhole, possibly caused by rainwater washing away soil, appeared in Hemel Hempsted on Saturday.

Travel delays continue on roads and railways across the country as authorities attempt to clear fallen trees and 65,409 are without power this evening, according to the Energy Networks Association.

Additional reporting by the Press Association