Thames residents have never seen flood levels as high in 30 years
Hundreds of low-level and medium-risk warnings with severe weather expected
Swans with a submerged boat on the flooded banks of the River Thames in Chertsey, Surrey, yesterday. Photograph: Steve Parsons/PA Wire
Thousands of homes along the River Thames have been told to prepare for “significant flooding”, as the number of severe flood warnings in the south of England swelled to 16.
Of the severe flood warnings, 14 relate to a lengthy stretch of the Thames through Oxfordshire and Surrey, and two remain in place in crisis-hit Somerset Levels.
Denise Bristow, 63, said she received a phone call from th Environment Agency at 7.30am with a flood alert as water moved towards their homes on Laleham Road by the Thames.
“We’ve been living here for 30 years and we’ve never seen it so high,” she said.
“It is concerning. What will happen if it gets into the houses? You can’t move everything. What if you’ve got heavy furniture?”
Her husband, Fred, 65, said he was keen to see the record the flooded landscape.
“I came out to get a few photographs to catch something different,” he said.
The Environment Agency said the Thames warnings stretched “from Datchet to Shepperton Green, including Ham Court and Chertsey, as river levels in the area are extremely high and are forecast to continue to rise”.
Communities secretary Eric Pickles said the areas are expected to suffer “significant” problems by the middle of the week.
Although southern England and Wales will see a quieter day with light showers, the latest storm will arrive this evening with heavy rain of up to 0.78in (20mm), weather forecasters MeteoGroup said.
There are more than 230 low-level flood alerts and more than 150 medium-risk warnings in place across Wales and central and southern England with severe weather expected throughout the week.
The Met Office warned that river levels are expected to continue rising along the Thames, the Severn and the Dorset Stour this week.
A further 20,000 sandbags are ready to be deployed to communities at risk of flooding on the Somerset Levels.
Somerset County Council staff have worked tirelessly alongside Royal Marines from 40 Commando throughout the weekend to prepare a further 20,000 sandbags for use.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “Military personnel, currently mostly Royal Marines, continue to provide support in Somerset in areas affected by floods as part of cross-Government and multi-agency relief efforts.
“As the prime minister has said, all available resources are being brought to bear to help those still struggling as a result of the floods.”
The Ministry of Defence has put 1,600 personnel on six hours’ notice to help in the south.
Surrey Police and Thames Valley Police have issued safety advice to residents in their area expected to be affected by flooding.
A spokesman for Surrey Police said up to 2,500 homes are at risk of flooding and added that military assistance is being provided.
The prime minister, speaking after chairing a meeting of the Government’s Cobra emergency committee yesterday, said he had “made clear again that every resource is available to the local communities affected”.
Network Rail had been told to do “whatever it takes” to restore badly disrupted rail links - which earlier saw the south west cut off entirely.