UK weather: Yalding villagers cut off by flood confront David Cameron
Prime Minister praises ‘real spirit’ of storm victims in Kent left without power for five days
Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith is a freelance reporter. She was nominated for business journalist of the year at the Press Gazette British Journalism Awards 2012 and her name is so long that she has a double-decker byline in print.
Saturday 28 December 2013
A flood victim confronted David Cameron on Friday claiming that her village had been abandoned to the storm by the authorities, amid growing anger over power cuts.
The Prime Minister, who praised the emergency services on Friday for doing an “amazing job”, appeared rattled when he was taken to task by Erica Olivares live on television during a visit to Yalding in Kent, which has been hit by serious floods. He later tweeted that people in the village had had a “tough Christmas” but had “shown real spirit”.
Mr Cameron called on councils, energy companies and insurers to “help people recover from the terrible shock” of the storms over the past five days. An estimated 1,200 homes have been flooded over the festive period, while the Energy Networks Association (ENA) said around 4,000 properties were still cut off in the UK today.
Scottish Power said Thursday night’s storms, in which winds peaked at 100mph, caused power cuts to at least 28,000 homes in Wales and Scotland.
In Yalding, Mr Cameron told residents there was much to do. “We need insurance companies to get round so the loss adjusters can help households,” he said. “We need the council to get round with skips so people can get their carpets and furniture removed. We need to get the power back on, and we need to learn the lessons.” The Prime Minister added that the Government was spending more on flood defences over the next four years than over the past four years. He said more than “80,000 houses [were[ protected this time, but we’ve got to do more”.
But Ms Olivares appeared unimpressed and, in a heated discussion, she told him: “We still have no electric. We need electric. As I say, the council, from Monday, we have been trying to contact them, but they have all decided to go on their holidays. Nothing.”
Mr Cameron, who posted pictures from Yalding on his Twitter account, offered to take a look at the damage to her house and personally talk to the council on her behalf.
Shadow energy minister Tom Greatrex attacked the Government and energy companies for leaving some people without power for five days, saying they should be “working round the clock to get everyone reconnected, especially with warnings of more bad weather on the way”.
“People need to know what is going on. The energy companies must ensure they are providing proper information and support to all households without power – and not leaving people’s calls on hold for hours on end,” he said.
He added that if the power supply is not urgently restored the Prime Minister should “seriously consider convening Cobra” to ensure everything possible is being done.
While many in Yalding complained they were not adequately warned of the floods, Geraldine Brown, chairman of Yalding Parish Council, said people had been told of the floods on Christmas Eve but some were too “pig-headed” to leave. She said the village’s emergency plan “worked brilliantly” but residents had relied on Sea Scouts with canoes to be rescued as the Kent Fire Rescue Service was unable to reach the village in time.
Helen Grant, Conservative MP for Maidstone and the Weald, which covers Yalding, said the community was pulling together. In one case, an elderly woman stranded on the top floor of her house had her Christmas dinner winched up to her in a bucket.
Tony Glover, a spokesperson for the Energy Networks Association, said the number of houses without power was being reduced as the flood water began to drain away. “There will be pockets of people we can’t reach straight away, but the aim is to get everyone back on by tomorrow who have [had no electricity] for the past few days,” he said.
However, he added that if the weather got worse it would make it harder to reconnect power. “We don’t want anyone to underestimate the difficult situation this has been but thankfully the floodwater is beginning to drain,” he said.
Weather watch: More heavy rain on its way
Saturday and Sunday
The Met Office forecast two days of “quite nice” weather with sunshine and scattered showers, although temperatures will fall to a below average 4-6C for much of the country.
A band of heavy rain is expected to sweep west to east across the country from northern Scotland to southern England from about 6am. The Met Office has issued a severe weather “yellow alert” because of rain for South-west England in the morning. “With ground already saturated over much of this region, the public should be aware of the risk of further local flooding,” the Met Office said.
Most places should be dry by about 6pm. Forecasters predict winds will gust at speeds between 20 and 40mph.
A second band of heavy rain is forecast to move across the UK from the west and it could still be raining in the South-east as the new year begins. Wind gusts of between 30 and 40mph are expected.
The Environment Agency said it was monitoring the situation and would take a decision about issuing flood warnings closer to the arrival of the two bands of heavy rain next week. “Our teams have been working hard this week on dealing with the flooding and we’re preparing for the other bands of rainfall that are going to come through,” a spokeswoman said.
“We’re advising people to continue to stay safe and be aware of what to do before, during and after flooding.”
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