UK weather: Ministers say Government ‘can’t prevent course of nature’ as more storms bring flooding threat to Home Counties and London

Thousands more homes at risk of flooding as a new band of severe weather is set to bring ice, wind, rain and snow

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The Independent Online

With the Army mobilising across southern England and more forecasts of heavy rain, gales and snow, ministers have warned that the Government “can’t prevent the course of nature”.

Thousands of homes are under threat from rising flood waters in the home counties and London, while the south-west continues to bear the brunt of flooding and could receive up to 70mm (2.75ins) of rain by the end of the week.

Last night the Environment Agency’s under-fire chair Lord Smith said the floods came as a result of “the most extreme weather that we have ever seen”, while it has now issued more than 350 flood alerts and warnings.

The Met Office has severe weather warnings in place for the whole of the UK tomorrow including an amber alert for gales up to 80mph. Spokesperson Sarah Davies said the new system forecast to arrive in the middle of the week could add to the problems facing the country.

The rail network was already suffering extensive disruption from the floods this morning, and Ms Davies warned that tomorrow’s storm could be highly destructive, felling trees and cutting off power supplies.

While commuters heading into London prepared for a very different kind of disruption set to be caused by the 48-hour Tube strike starting tonight, they were warned of limited services across networks run by South West Trains, Southeastern Southern, CrossCountry and First Great Western.

There was major disruption between Oxford and Didcot Parkway, Bridgwater and Taunton, and Taunton and Plymouth/Penzance, while trains were delayed by up to an hour between Reading and London Paddington because of flooding near Maidenhead.

Hundreds of people have been evacuated from homes along the Thames after it burst its banks in Surrey and Berkshire, and with Surrey Police declaring a “major incident”.

The Environment Agency's live flood alert map showed warnings no more than 10 miles from central London

Officials predicted hundreds more homes will be flooded over the coming days and restoring the country's battered rail network could take months.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, the Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said that while the Government “ has got a grip on this”, the authorities involved “cannot prevent the course of nature”.

He said local authorities had been given all the resources they needed to deal with the flooding threat, and said the time for “ recriminations” would come later.

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He told the programme: “We are dealing with an enormous force of nature here, vast quantities of water, an unprecedented weather pattern, and, while the authorities can and must do everything that is possible, there are some things I'm afraid that we just can't do. We cannot always intervene to prevent the course of nature.

“There will be a time later for analysing what happened and what didn't happen, what should have been done, perhaps, and how we might do things better in the future.”

Yesterday David Cameron met with those organising weather defences at Chesil Beach, and a Cabinet meeting due to take place today was postponed to allow the Prime Minister to continue visiting flooded regions.

Lord Smith told BBC2's Newsnight: “This is extreme natural forces having a go at us and we need to find the best possible ways of defending ourselves against them.”

Lord Smith acknowledged mistakes had been made, but blamed the Treasury's spending rules and a lack of co-operation from councils for the problems dredging the rivers Tone and Parrett on the Somerset Levels.

“We've all made mistakes, everyone has made mistakes,” he said.

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