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Battered UK braced for more floods

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Waves crash over the promenade in Dover, Kent, as more bad weather and storms sweep across the country. Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

Waves crash over the promenade in Dover, Kent, as more bad weather and storms sweep across the country. Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

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Flooded homes in Egham, Surrey. Steve Parsons/PA Wire

Flooded homes in Egham, Surrey. Steve Parsons/PA Wire

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A member of the army carries a television to higher ground in Egham, Surrey. Steve Parsons/PA Wire

A member of the army carries a television to higher ground in Egham, Surrey. Steve Parsons/PA Wire

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Members of the army carry belongings  to higher ground in Egham, Surrey. Steve Parsons/PA Wire

Members of the army carry belongings to higher ground in Egham, Surrey. Steve Parsons/PA Wire

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The M48 motorway and the Severn Bridge going across the Bristol Channel from England to Wales is devoid of cars and lorries as it is now closed to all vehicles as the Met Office issue a red weather warning and high winds begin to effect South West Wales as the latest UK storm passes over the country. Ben Birchall/PA Wire

The M48 motorway and the Severn Bridge going across the Bristol Channel from England to Wales is devoid of cars and lorries as it is now closed to all vehicles as the Met Office issue a red weather warning and high winds begin to effect South West Wales as the latest UK storm passes over the country. Ben Birchall/PA Wire

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A member of the army carries a television to higher ground in Egham, Surrey. Steve Parsons/PA Wire

A member of the army carries a television to higher ground in Egham, Surrey. Steve Parsons/PA Wire

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Handout photo issued by local resident Christian Gandar of flooding near the River Severn in Worcester. Christian Gandar /PA Wire

Handout photo issued by local resident Christian Gandar of flooding near the River Severn in Worcester. Christian Gandar /PA Wire

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Nikki Vipers from Egham, Surrey looks at the flooded garden of her parent's home in Egham, Surrey. Steve Parsons/PA Wire

Nikki Vipers from Egham, Surrey looks at the flooded garden of her parent's home in Egham, Surrey. Steve Parsons/PA Wire

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Residents queue for sandbags at the Magna Carta School in Egham, Surrey. Steve Parsons/PA Wire

Residents queue for sandbags at the Magna Carta School in Egham, Surrey. Steve Parsons/PA Wire

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Residents queue for sandbags at the Magna Carta School in Egham, Surrey. Steve Parsons/PA Wire

Residents queue for sandbags at the Magna Carta School in Egham, Surrey. Steve Parsons/PA Wire

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Suhair Al-Fouadi looks at her flooded lounge in Egham, Surrey. Steve Parsons/PA Wire

Suhair Al-Fouadi looks at her flooded lounge in Egham, Surrey. Steve Parsons/PA Wire

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Members of the army help residents with sandbags in Egham, Surrey. Steve Parsons/PA Wire

Members of the army help residents with sandbags in Egham, Surrey. Steve Parsons/PA Wire

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Nikki Vipers (left) with her dad Andy and mum Sharon (right) looks at their flooded garden in Egham, Surrey. Steve Parsons/PA Wire

Nikki Vipers (left) with her dad Andy and mum Sharon (right) looks at their flooded garden in Egham, Surrey. Steve Parsons/PA Wire

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Waves crash over the promenade in Dover, Kent, as more bad weather and storms sweep across the country. Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

The UK is facing more stormy weather, with high winds and heavy rain bringing further disruption and flooding misery to parts of the country.

The Thames is predicted to rise to its highest level in more than 60 years in some places, while the Met Office has issued a "red" weather warning for exceptionally strong winds in western parts of Wales and north-western parts of England.

Winds of 80mph are expected widely in those areas and gusts could reach up to 100mph in the most exposed locations in west and north west Wales, potentially hitting power supplies, bringing down trees and causing widespread damage.

Coastal areas could also be battered by large waves, the Met Office said.

Gusts of 92mph have already been recorded in the Mumbles on the Gower Peninsula, south west Wales, and the south coast of the Irish Republic has been battered by winds of 96mph, weather forecaster Meteogroup said.

The Met Office has forecast 70mm (2.75 inches) of rain by Friday in the already-sodden West Country - more than the region would normally get in the whole of February - with south Wales, western Scotland, Northern Ireland and other parts of southern England also expected to bear the brunt of the deluge.

Windsor, Maidenhead and communities in Surrey have been warned to expect severe disruption and risk of flooding. There are 14 severe flood warnings - meaning there is a danger to life - in the Thames Valley.

Another two severe flood warnings remain in place in Somerset, while the Environment Agency has 129 flood warnings and more than 200 less serious flood alerts in force.

The agency said 50 homes had flooded along the Thames Valley overnight, bringing the total number of homes flooded since January 29 to 1,135.

With more rainfall forecast today, tomorrow and Friday, the threat of flooding was likely to increase of over the next few days, with communities along the Thames in Oxfordshire, West Berkshire and Reading, and along the Severn in Worcestershire also at an increased risk.

Coastal flooding could hit north west coasts and the Dorset coast tonight, while the threat of groundwater flooding continued in Hampshire, Kent and parts of London, the Environment Agency said.

Paul Leinster, chief executive of the Environment Agency, said: "Our hearts and sincere sympathy go out to those who have already experienced flooding.

"We continue to have teams out on the ground 24/7 working to protect lives, homes, businesses, communities and farmland.

"With further rain expected in the coming days, after the wettest January on record in England, the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better.

"Further flooding is expected along the Thames, which could reach its highest levels in some places since 1947. River levels are very high across south west, central and southern England and further rain has the potential to cause significant flooding," he warned.

The latest swathe of appalling weather to hit the UK comes as a Government minister warned there was no "blank cheque" to pay for repairing the damage of weeks of storms and floods that have affected parts of the country.

Prime Minister David Cameron, who chaired a meeting of the Government's Cobra emergencies committee in 10 Downing Street, promised yesterday that "money is no object" in offering relief to those affected by the floods.

But Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin indicated that there would be "careful consideration" before money is spent on the larger rebuilding exercise of restoring damaged infrastructure after water levels recede.

"I don't think it's a blank cheque," Mr McLoughlin told ITV1's Daybreak. "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, in the first instance, of trying to bring relief to those communities that are affected.

"Then we have got to do the repairs of the structures and the railway infrastructure that's been damaged and then the other long-term issues, which will need some careful consideration."

At Prime Minister's Questions Mr Cameron said grants of up to £5,000 will be available to businesses and homeowners hit by flooding to protect their properties better in future.

He also announced a £10 million fund for farmers whose land has been waterlogged for weeks and deferred tax payments and 100% business rate relief for affected businesses.

Mr Cameron repeated his pledge that "money is no object in this relief effort" as he was questioned by Ed Miliband about the Transport Secretary's comments.

Mr Cameron said: "I want communities who are suffering and people who see water lapping at their doors to know that when it comes to the military, when it comes to sandbags, when it comes to restoring broken flood defences, all of those things, money is no object.

"To be fair to the Transport Secretary this is what he said this morning: money is not the issue while we are in this relief job. That's what he said, he is absolutely right."

He urged the emergency services gold commanders co-ordinating the response to flooding not to "think twice" before calling on military assistance.

The Labour leader said some people in flooded communities thought the armed forces were sent in too late, and asked the Prime Minister whether help in the coming days would be provided "in time rather than after the event".

Mr Cameron said: "It's always been possible for gold commanders in these emergency situations to call on military assets. Indeed, a military liaison officer is supposed to sit with those gold commanders and liaise with them.

"What we've done in recent days is say very clearly to all the local authorities concerned, and we have contacted them individually, if you want military assistance, don't think twice about it, think once, then ask, and they'll be there."

Mr Cameron has cancelled a planned trip to the Middle East to take personal charge of the response to the flooding crisis. Tomorrow he will chair the first meeting of a new Cabinet committee set up to oversee the recovery effort.

About 100 properties remain flooded on the Somerset Levels, where extra pumps are being brought in from the Netherlands, while 23 temporary defences have been put up in places such as Oxford, Guildford, and Kenley in Croydon, south London.

The Thames barrier closed again yesterday to protect communities to the west of the capital. It has closed 30 times since the beginning of the year - a fifth of the flood defence closures it has undertaken since it became operational in 1982.

Since the beginning of December, a total of 5,800 premises have flooded - although the Environment Agency also stressed that 1.3 million have been protected by defences.

Downing Street said the emergency committee Cobra will meet again this afternoon, chaired by the Prime Minister.

The AA said that by early afternoon it had attended 29 flood-stricken vehicles, with the number since last Friday reaching 680.

Darron Burness, head of the AA's flood rescue team, said: "We've never seen anything like it. The scale of the flood devastation is sobering and our crews report seeing hundreds of cars submerged in water, often still stuck on the drive.

"At the moment, the number one priority is getting our members to safety. The cars are an insurance job - written off. However, if your area is still at risk of further flooding, try to move your car to higher ground, if it's safe and practical to do so."

The AA also warned motorists about entering vehicles that have been submerged in flood water.

Mr Burness said: "Water can play havoc with a vehicle's electronics and sometimes the consequences can be more dangerous, for example, compromising the safety of the airbags.

"There's a risk they could go off unexpectedly, so our flood rescue crews use a special Kevlar-reinforced restraint over the steering wheel before working on the vehicle. If your car has been sitting in water, don't be tempted to try to move it, just call your insurer."

John Allan, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, welcomed the support for businesses which may not be able to trade as a result of flooding and would be under financial pressure.

"The Government now needs to look at how to make flood defences more robust to protect against these incidents."

He said it remained a concern that the Government had chosen not to include small firms in the planned Flood Re scheme with industry to provide affordable flood insurance in high risk areas.

"FSB research shows one in five small firms were affected by floods in 2012-13 and we know many struggle to get adequate insurance cover.

"If they can't use this scheme, small businesses will be forced to pay exorbitantly high costs to be insured against this threat. We want the Government and the insurance industry to think again on this issue," he said.

The Department for Transport will provide £30 million of additional funding for English councils affected by the severe weather to maintain roads and repair potholes and £31 million for 10 rail schemes in the south west to improve resilience to flooding.

The Transport Secretary will also work with bus and coach operators to ensure that extra services are in place for areas affected by the storms and floods, Downing Street said.

The West Coast Main Line will close between Preston and Lancaster at around 7pm today for a couple of hours because of high winds, Network Rail said.

Surrey Police said around 1,000 homes in their area had been affected by flooding, with 600 people evacuated.

"Latest forecasts indicate more rain is expected and water levels will continue to fluctuate over the coming days and into next week," a spokesman said.

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