Monday 19 March 2018

Flooding fear for UK after new storm warning

Fallen tree's are cleared in north Antrim as power companies have been condemned for failing to restore supplies to thousands of households as the UK suffered a second major storm over the Christmas holiday
Fallen tree's are cleared in north Antrim as power companies have been condemned for failing to restore supplies to thousands of households as the UK suffered a second major storm over the Christmas holiday
UK Prime Minister David Cameron talks with residents in the village of Yalding in Kent during a visit after storms caused flooding across Britain

Emma Clark and David Mercer

Flooding fears continue to plague Britain as another band of persistent rain and heavy wind heads towards the UK.

The latest storm pushing in from the Atlantic will arrive in the west this evening before spreading north-eastwards overnight, causing Monday morning disruption.

It comes as the chief executive of one of the UK's biggest power distributors admits its efforts to restore power to thousands of people should have been better

Basil Scarsella, chief executive of the UK Power Networks, told The Mail on Sunday that the company was not prepared for the storm and too many staff were on holiday.

The Met Office has issued a severe weather warning over fears of severe gales of up to 80mph affecting Wales and the south west and southern England.

It has also warned of the danger of ice patches in the south west tonight as temperatures drop to below freezing.

George Goodfellow, a forecaster for MeteoGroup, said: "Normally, we would say this is a typical winter storm but because we're still recovering from a string of other storms it is likely to cause more disruption and flooding."

He said the south west will continue to bear the brunt of the storm.

It will add to the misery of thousands who have been left without power and endured flooded homes over the Christmas period.

The Energy Networks Association said about 3,000 homes across the UK are still without electricity.

UK Power Networks, which owns electricity lines and cables in London, the south east and east of England, said it will increase payments for 48 to 60-hour outages from £27 to £75 for those affected on Christmas Day as "a gesture of goodwill".

Additional payments will be made to customers who have been without electricity for longer than that time - up to a maximum of £432.

Mr Scarsella said: "We could not have avoided the damage caused by the storm but we could have responded to it better.

"A lot of our employees had gone away for holidays so it meant we had a level of depletion in our resources - and that caused problems with getting people's power restored.

"It's difficult to justify saying the company has performed well when customers have been without power for five days, but once we had an idea of how bad it was we were able to mobilise as many engineers and office staff as possible."

In a statement, regulator Ofgem reminded energy companies they are obliged to get power back on as soon as possible.

"These obligations are backed by strong regulatory incentives put in place by Ofgem on the companies to maintain service levels and restore supplies, these include loss of revenues and awarding compensation payments to customers off supply," it said.

"There are also well established industry processes in place in event of severe weather and loss of supplies to share engineering resources and expertise across the network to help with supply restoration in the areas affected.

"The priority for the energy companies is to reconnect remaining customers and we are monitoring progress with this. In due course it will also be necessary to review events and ensure any further lessons that need to be are learnt."

Some 1,300 properties have been flooded during the recent storms in England, the Environment Agency said, while flood defences have protected more than 80,000 properties.

It warned the predicted rainfall meant there is a "continued heightened flood risk" across southern England, especially south west England where river levels remain high and the ground is already saturated.

Large rivers such as the Thames, Severn and Great Ouse in Cambridgeshire are most at risk of flooding, while high water levels on the River Medway and Stour in Kent will cause continued flooding and travel disruption, the EA said.

A Downing Street spokesman said ministers held a COBRA meeting yesterday where it was agreed financial assistance will be given to local authorities facing an undue financial burden because of the storms through a process known as the Bellwin scheme.

Energy secretary Edward Davey is also in talks with UK Power Networks to insist on a clear public timeline for work to get power back on, he added.

The spokesman said: "Crucially the Government is pushing councils to have a clear plan for if they face flooding over the new year."

Environment minister Dan Rogerson is in talks with insurance companies and the Association of British Insurers, while the Government has asked EA representatives on the ground to identify which insurance companies are not moving fast enough, the spokesman said.

Met Office forecaster Charlie Powell said the unsettled weather looks set to continue into the new year.

"It certainly looks a very wet and windy picture," he said.

"On New Year's Eve another band of rain will push in from the west. It will be a dry start to Wednesday but the unsettled weather will be around for quite some time into the new year."

Craig Woolhouse, the EA's head of flood incident management, said: "With more wet weather expected early next week we are monitoring rivers and working to protect communities from flooding with our partners in the emergency services and local authorities.

"We urge people to stay safe and avoid driving or walking through flood water and visit the Environment Agency website for advice and sign up for flood warnings."

The EA said its teams will remain on duty to operate pumping stations, issue flood warnings and check that flood banks, walls and barriers are working effectively.

Some 71 flood alerts and 14 more serious flood warnings remain in place across the country.

Energy Networks UK said engineers have managed to reduce the number of properties without power down to around 1,500.

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