UK weather: 'Danger to life' in severe floods as yet more rain, gales and huge waves batter Britain

More misery in store for the Midlands and south-west

Lizzie Dearden
Saturday 01 February 2014 10:29
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A boat operated by emergency services personnel carries local residents along a flooded road from the village of Muchelney on the Somerset Levels
A boat operated by emergency services personnel carries local residents along a flooded road from the village of Muchelney on the Somerset Levels

Gales, huge waves and torrential rain are set to bring yet more misery to swamped parts of the UK this weekend, overcoming defences, flooding homes and causing travel chaos.

Lives could be in danger in parts of the south-west and in the Midlands, where the Environment Agency has issued nine severe flood warnings – its highest level of alert.

The Cornwall and North Devon coasts are expect to bear the brunt of the weather, along with the River Severn near Gloucester, and 178 more flood warnings have been issued across England and Wales.

Cobra, the government’s emergency committee, has met to address the issue amid growing calls for a permanent solution.

A month of torrential downpours has seen some parts of England suffer the wettest January since records began more than 100 years ago, and the start of February is not looking promising.

Kate Marks, the Environment Agency’s flood risk manager, said: “A low pressure system combining with high tides brings a risk of coastal flooding to many parts of England over the weekend.

“The risk is highest for south west England, although many coastal areas will be affected and the public should stay away from coastlines and tidal areas and not drive through flood water.

“At the same time the risk of river flooding continues for the southern counties as with the ground already saturated, rivers are very responsive to rainfall. Groundwater levels also remain high in southern counties.”

The army was called in to help stranded communities in the underwater Somerset Levels and are currently on stand-by with members of the Navy and Royal Air Force.

Villages have been dubbed the “boat islands” by residents currently experiencing the most significant floods for two decades in the area.

Teams from the Environment Agency have been running dozens of pumps 24 hours a day to drain an estimated 1.5 million tonnes of water - equivalent to 600 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

There has been growing discontent in the county, where criticism has been levied at the Government and environment officials for not doing enough.

Writing in the local newspaper, Prime Minister David Cameron said it was “not acceptable” for people to have to live in the conditions they have faced for the past month.

“Like everybody across the country I feel enormous sympathy for the people who live on the Somerset Levels and are suffering from the devastating impact of the flooding,” he wrote.

“I know that a great deal of work has been done to try and alleviate the situation but it is not acceptable for people to have to live like this almost four weeks later - and I am not ruling out any option to get this problem sorted out.

"The Government is doing everything we can to help people recover as quickly as possible where they have suffered damage to their homes and businesses.”

He said dredging will begin as soon as possible to improve river flows in the South West and Environment Secretary Owen Patterson is working on a “long-term action” plan with the Environment Agency to reduce the risk of more devastation in years to come.

In the meantime, temporary barriers have been erected along the Severn and people are being evacuated to safety.

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