UK weather: Residents in Berkshire say military response is 24 hours too late


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The Independent Online

For some of the residents of Wraysbury by the River Thames the arrival of Zulu Company of the First Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers was “too much” and came “too late”.

On Tuesday more homes in the pretty Berkshire village flooded as the nearby River Thames continued to pour water into the across its floodplain hitting hundreds of homes in Wraysbury, Datchet, Staines, Egham and Maidenhead and throwing the Royal County’s transport network into chaos.

The arrival of 100 soldiers and their equipment from Zulu company and a co-ordinated response with the Environment Agency (EA) couldn’t come soon enough for Wraysbury resident Deborah Carter though.

“We’ve been without mains water and surrounded in floodwater for five weeks now and Thames Water and the EA have done nothing for us, nobody has,” she told The Independent. “On my road we have children defecating in plastic bags and in my house we have had to fill up water butts with excrement.”

And like many residents of Wraysbury Mrs Carter had to call in the RSPCA on Tuesday. The charity helped rescue 38 of her chickens, amid concerns the water could rise further. “It only had to come up another three inches or so to take the house,” she added.

Referring to the nearby Jubilee River, a £110 million EA project to protect larger towns up-stream which opened in 2002, she said, “We’ve been sacrificed to keep Maidenhead dry”.

Along with Wraysbury, there were still seven additional flood warning – meaning danger to life – in place from the EA in Berkshire on Tuesday night, but for many residents of this small village the water has already forced them to leave their homes.

Gwynneth Lane, 70, who has lived in Wraysbury for all her life cannot remember “floods this bad” after being flooded out of her home in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

The feisty pensioner button-holed Labour Ed Miliband on Tuesday as he visited the area, telling him, “Everybody is here too late, I’ve already lost my home as have many other people. Why is Wraysbury always the abandoned village?

She told The Independent afterwards, “It’s not Ed Miliband's fault and it was good of him to come. But why has it been left to the volunteers here to help out for so long. I’m pleased the army and the EA have arrived, but it’s a little too late to be honest.”

Zulu Company’s heavy vehicles brought the village to a halt and made an incongruous sight on normally sleepy roads, where local MP Philip Hammond, was accused of not taking the “situation seriously” by some locals earlier in the day.

Members of Royal Berkshire Fire & Rescue squad evacuate a family (Getty)

Major Jim Skelton, the officer commanding Zulu Company, said his men stood ready to “plug in” to support the police and EA.

He said, “We are here to do a job and support the civil agencies and our Fusiliers don’t mind getting wet feet in the process.”

The area’s councillor John Lenton spoke for many of the residents: “The convoy of army lorries has certainly made an impact on the traffic situation, but we’re very pleased to see them lending a hand. We’re looking forward to seeing them put their kit to work and holding back the waters.”

Local farmer Brian Bermingham, who is living with sewage-contaminated water in his front room and can only get through his front door wearing chest waders, was more guarded.

He said, “I’m sure the homeowners in the village who haven’t been flooded yet will be pleased to see them, but it is no use to those of us who were flooded at the weekend. Nobody helped us and we didn’t see a soul from the EA.”

Visiting the village Labour's Ed Miliband told The Independent the response from the military and EA had taken “too long”.

He said, “There’s been a fantastic effort by local people here, but this is wake-up call to the issues of flooding, the impact of climate change and the Government’s policy on flood prevention.”

Labour party leader Ed Miliband talks with resident Peter Horner (Getty)

Speaking to reporters and residents while ankle deep in floodwater, he added that Government response to the flooding crisis had been "too slow" and that Prime Minister David Cameron “ needed to get to grips with the situation”.

“The bigger issue here is the impact of climate change… we can’t attribute any one event to climate change but what is clear is that climate change will produce more of these events. The cost of not acting now will far greater than taking [preventative] action. We must follow the science.”

Earlier Alok Sharma, the Conservative MP for Reading West, tackled the Labour leader as he visited victims of the flooding in Purley.

Mr Sharma confronted Mr Miliband and said: “Why are you actually here?" While visiting Wraysbury later Mr Miliband said it was “difficult decision for politicians whether to visit areas like this, but I feel people have been welcoming and I can take their concerns back to Westminster.”

Peter Horner, 56, who met with Mr Miliband in Wraysbury told The Independent, “It’s good he has visited and most people here have welcomed him, but if the politicians downstream at Westminster made some more air and took some action, we might be able to evaporate some of this water.”

Floodwater reaches a children's playground in Wraysbury (Getty)

On the region's rail lines, because of flooding near Maidenhead, only fours trains an hour were running from London Paddington and Reading, while a replacement bus from Staines and Windsor & Eton Riverside stations was not stopping at Wraysbury, Sunnymeads and Datchet because of the floods.

Commuting to work was the least of the concerns of residents of nearby Datchet, upstream from Wraysbury though, as many of them spent the day waiting for fresh deliveries of sand bags.

On the road outside her home in the village pensioner Sheila Russell was begging passing drivers to slow down and prevent bow-waves flooding her home.

Water was already coming up underneath her floorboards when one Mercedes diver told her, “the rain isn’t my f***ing responsibility” before speeding off in his luxury saloon. Other residents complained some 4x4 drivers were not slowing down to take account of flood water.

Mrs Russell said, “There been no help from the parish or local council, no sandbags, no flood signs. There’s no military response here whatsoever.”

Further down the road at a lakeside gym and water sports centre Matthew Priddy was using a borrowed Land Rover to slowly approach his flooded business and check out the damage.

“It’s the second time we’ve been flooded since January,” said Mr Priddy looking at the half of mile of water than now surrounded his gym. “All we can do is move the electrics above the flood levels and hope it stops raining. Of course it’s nature for this area to flood, but it’s never, ever been this bad before.”

Watch one resident getting evacuated from his home in Staines