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27 February 2024

Storms to lash flooded parts of Britain

A couple wade along a flooded road near Egham, west of London on February 12, 2014. Flooded communities in Britain faced a fresh battering from storms and high winds as emergency efforts in stricken areas picked up following criticism of a sluggish response. (AFP)


Flooded communities in Britain faced a fresh battering from storms and high winds on Wednesday as emergency efforts in stricken areas picked up following criticism of a sluggish response.

Fourteen severe flood warnings -- indicating a danger to life -- were in place in Berkshire and Surrey to the west of London, while two remain in Somerset in southwest England.

The Met Office national weather service issued a red warning -- the highest level of threat -- for "exceptionally strong winds" in western parts of Wales and some parts of northwest England later Wednesday.

Heavy rain is also expected across the country.

More than 1,000 homes west of London along the River Thames have been flooded in the past week.

Waters were overflowing in Staines, just a few miles (kilometres) from London Heathrow Airport, one of the world's busiest air hubs.

A handful of residents were evacuated from their homes in Staines and others desperately piled up sandbags at their front doors in an attempt to keep the waters at bay.

Around 1,700 homes in Datchet, an affluent village a short distance upstream, had to contend with losing electricity late Tuesday.

While the Thames remained the focus of the flooding, the middle of Worcester in central England was also increasingly threatened by the rapidly rising River Severn.

Prime Minister David Cameron chaired an early-morning meeting of the government's COBRA emergency committee, as he attempted to get a grip on the growing crisis.

The prime minister cancelled a planned trip next week to Israel and the Palestinian Territories so that he can deal with the worsening situation.

Major General Patrick Sanders, who is coordinating the armed forces response, told the meeting that around 2,000 military personnel were involved in the clean-up operation.

More troops have also been drafted into Somerset -- the rural county in southwest England that was the first to flood last month.

Cameron cautioned on Tuesday that "things may get worse before they get better".

At the COBRA meeting, he said: "I think one of the things we have got to make sure today is that all the local authorities who need help are clear that they can get help."

Cameron promised on Tuesday that money was no object in the effort to help flooded communities, which came as a surprise to many from a government that is cutting back public spending.

On Wednesday, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin warned: "I don't think it's a blank cheque."

"I think what the prime minister was making very clear is that we are going to use every resource of the government and money is not the issue while we are in this relief job (for) those communities that are affected," he told ITV.

In Wraysbury, one of the worst-hit Thameside villages, a primary school was turned into an emergency centre for residents.

Lucy Foster, who has been helping to run the operation, told the BBC the village had been "looking after itself for a long, long time and morale was getting very low, energy levels were getting low".

But she said: "Finally we've got the boys and girls that we need: we've got the army, the police force, the fire service and getting a lot of support from them and a lot of direction from them."

Experts meanwhile have warned that flooded areas could see little respite for months because groundwater levels are so high. They warn that water could seep up through cellars and basements into homes for months.