Floods alerts issued across Britain as gales approach

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More than 40 flood warnings were in force last night after rain lashed Britain, while some areas were threatened with severe gales.

An Environment Agency spokeswoman said the number of flood alerts had fallen from 47 early yesterday across East Anglia, the Midlands, North-east and Southern England and Wales to 41 by the afternoon. The agency was warning people in the Midlands, and those near the Severn in particular, to remain vigilant. "There has been localised flooding," said the spokeswoman.

Parts of Britain were facing the prospect of severe gales as the threat of flooding subsided.

There has been no repeat so far of the devastating floods that wreaked havoc in many parts of the country, including Kent, Sussex, Hertfordshire and East Anglia, last year.

But while the situation is unlikely to deteriorate, the agency warned against complacency. "We expect these warnings to stay in place for at least a couple of days as water starts moving from the upper reaches down towards the rivers," the spokeswoman said.

Forecasters predicted western and northern parts of Scotland would see the worst weather today with severe gales and storm-force winds for a time and heavy showers. Most of England and Wales will be windy with sunny spells, though there is a risk of gales in western coastal districts.

In Kent, flood warnings cover a stretch of the Medway, the river that caused such damage to Yalding last year. Other rivers in southern areas with flood warnings include the river Cuckmere, between Hellingly and Sherman's Bridge.

Flood warnings in the Midlands cover areas along the rivers Severn, Wye and Avon. More information on flood warnings can be found at www.environment-agency.gov. uk/floodwarning.

Some estimates put the cost of flood damage last year as high as £2bn, with more than 10,000 homes and businesses affected. A £106m flood defence package was announced by the Government in October to try to protect the most vulnerable areas, but much of the work will take months to complete. And ministers stressed it would be impossible to remove the risk of flooding altogether.

Some of the floods were the worst in living memory and the apparently increasingly vol-atile weather of recent winters has prompted further examination on the impact of global warming.

The Environment Agency spokeswoman said yesterday there had been no repetition of that scale of flooding, and the existing number of alerts was not unusual for the time of year.