Cameron visiting flood-hit UK areas as army on standby
Severe flood warnings involving danger to life for stretches of Thames west of London
British prime minister David Cameron will continue to visit flood-hit areas of the UK today in an effort to demonstrate that he has a grip on the crisis as more bad weather is set to come.
Government ministers insisted the authorities were doing “everything possible” and the military was on standby as the country braced for further heavy rain and gale force winds.
Severe flood warnings, where there is a danger to life, remain in place along stretches of the River Thames west of London and on the Somerset Levels.
Hundreds of people have been evacuated from homes along the Thames after its burst its banks in Surrey and Berkshire, with thousands more at risk as water levels are expected to rise even further today.
The Environment Agency has issued more than 350 flood alerts and warnings, with the southeast, southwest and the midlands bearing the brunt of the flooding.
Commuters face another day of delays on the rail networks.
There is major disruption to CrossCountry services between Oxford and Didcot Parkway, Bridgwater and Taunton, and Taunton and Plymouth/Penzance, while First Great Western said it would only be able to run four trains an hour between Reading and London Paddington this morning because of flooding near Maidenhead.
Communities secretary Eric Pickles said special efforts were being made to protect vital infrastructure from the floods in order to minimise disruption.
But officials have predicted hundreds more homes will be flooded over the coming days and restoring the country’s battered rail network could take months.
Mr Pickles chaired the latest meeting of the government’s Cobra emergency committee yesterday as the prime minister visited southwest England.
The communities secretary said: “We are doing everything possible to protect people’s homes and communities. In addition, strategic sites such as water and electrical plants are being given special attention to ensure that homes are not left without vital resources.
“Local authorities are being given immediate practical support from government. This includes centralising the control of sandbags, ordering additional temporary flood defences and ensuring that existing defences are being shared and deployed where necessary.
“Additionally, full military support remains on standby across the south.”
He warned: “Sadly, the worst of the bad weather is not over. But we are working tirelessly to deal with the situation on the ground and to prepare and protect vulnerable areas”
The Cabinet meeting due to take place today has been postponed to allow the prime minister to continue visiting flooded regions.
The Met Office’s Sarah Davies told a briefing that strong winds forecast for the middle of the week could add to the problems facing the country.
Some 20-40mm (0.75-1.5 inches) of rain is expected by Friday night across many southern and western areas.
A storm due to hit tomorrow could fell trees and cause transport and power disruption, Ms Davies warned, with winds in the south west potentially reaching 80mph.