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UK floods: Army deployed to Somerset Levels as military planners and specialist vehicles provide support to victims

Troops set to deliver food to villagers and help transport people in and out

Adam Withnall
Wednesday 29 January 2014 19:10 GMT
Flooded fields surround the River Tone near Langport in Somerset, England, on 29 January. The military has been brought in to provide relief to villages
Flooded fields surround the River Tone near Langport in Somerset, England, on 29 January. The military has been brought in to provide relief to villages (Getty Images)

The Army has been deployed to the Somerset Levels, with specialist vehicles brought in to provide relief to villagers cut off by flooding.

The county is currently experiencing its most significant floods for more than 20 years, and with more rain forecast for the coming days the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said late yesterday it was deploying military planners to meet with Somerset County Council "at first light".

The decision came following a meeting of the Government's emergency committee Cobra, and follows on from a Met Office severe weather warning for significant downpours on Friday and Saturday.

With some villagers near Langport only able to get to their homes via a single boat going once an hour, the Army will provide specialist amphibious transportation and deliver supplies to those in need.

Around 65 square kilometres of land have been completely swamped by water, and on Monday the Environment Secretary Owen Paterson was met with hostility on a visit to the area by residents saying they were suffering "third world" conditions.

Last night Mr Paterson said Somerset County Council had only asked for assistance "for the first time today".

But a council spokesman said the authority had been discussing with the military for weeks the possibility of bringing in manpower, sandbags and amphibious vehicles.

John Osman, Conservative leader of Somerset County Council, said military might would give beleaguered residents the chance to repair their battered properties, with the village of Muchelney cut off since the turn of the year because of flooded roads.

Many parts of the Levels have been flooded since Christmas and there are fears it could be months before the water is completely pumped away.

Drainage experts blame two decades of under-investment in flood defence work for turning the Levels into a "disaster area" and said it was "very, very urgent" that rivers are dredged to prevent more damage to homes, livelihoods and wildlife.

David Heath, the Liberal Democrat MP for Somerset and Frome, welcomed the Army's assistance and the promise of dredging in the future.

He told the Daily Telegraph: "It seems that we have a real sense of urgency now from the Government as to what we need in Somerset."

Flood water surrounds houses in the village of Thorney in Somerset, earlier this week (Getty Images)

Rev Jane Twitty said she and fellow Somerset residents had been using boats to get about during the flooding.

Heating fuel is running out for those who are not on mains gas and children are cold and wet when they get home, she added.

She told BBC Breakfast the community was "getting tired now" and would welcome help from the military.

She said: "I am sure they will but there will be questions asked about why it took so long to help them.

"I think they will be hoping they can be more flexible about times they will be coming in and out because the boat stops at 4pm."

Additional reporting by PA

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