Misery continues for UK flood victims

Misery continues for UK flood victims

Hundreds of flood warnings remain in place across the UK as more showers are likely to delay further the clean-up operation at flood-hit homes this weekend.

Forecasters said the mild wet and blustery weather will be a respite compared to the two major storms endured over Christmas, which have left thousands of homes flooded and many without power for days.

The Environment Agency has issued more than 130 flood alerts across central and southern England – with 34 in areas urging residents to take immediate action.

Showers will mainly affect western and southern England, Wales and parts of Scotland before a light storm moves in tomorrow, Meteogroup forecaster Sean Penston said.

“It won’t be nearly as bad compared to the last two storms but it will no doubt make it hard for people recovering from flooding,” he said.

The authorities efforts to deal with the chaos caused by the first storm on Monday were hampered by the arrival of a second storm on St Stephen's Day night, bringing with it gales of more than 100mph.

Yesterday power companies were condemned for failing to restore supplies to thousands of people – some who had been without electricity since Christmas eve.

More than 1,200 homes flooded, while many rivers burst there banks and groundwater flooding made roads impassable.

Coupled with major travel disruption, it has been a difficult Christmas break for many.

Yesterday the Energy Networks Association (ENA) said that 13,000 homes were still without power across the south of England and Wales.

More than 3,000 people in Kent, Surrey and Sussex have been without power since the Christmas Eve storm, according to UK Power Networks.

Meanwhile, about 5,000 customers in Northern Ireland were without electricity after severe gales with gusts of up to 75mph swept across southern and eastern counties overnight on Thursday.

And around 35,000 homes were last night without power across the Republic of Ireland after being battered by Thursday night’s storm.

In the south east of England, British Prime Minister David Cameron was confronted by an angry flood victim as he visited a village seriously affected by the latest storms.

The unnamed woman said her local council had done nothing to help villagers in Yalding, Kent, where homes had been severely damaged.

In a heated on-camera exchange with the PM, the woman said: “We still have no electric. We need electric. As I say the council, from Monday we have been trying to contact them, but they have all decided to go on their holidays. Nothing.”

Mr Cameron appeared rattled as he tried to defuse the confrontation by promising to contact the council himself.

The network operator’s promise to have everyone affected by the Christmas Eve storm back with power by the weekend did little to quell the anger of customers.

Stephanie Chapman, 54, from Yalding, said she wished she had been given more warning about the floods.

ENA spokesman Tony Glover apologised to those affected by the storms, but highlighted the difficulties technicians had been facing.

He said: “The problem was that not only did we have a storm followed by torrential rain, but huge amounts of flooding afterwards.

“That impacted on our ability to get to the affected areas, and to get materials that we need.”

ScottishPower said it had now reconnected 14,500 customers who lost power during Thursday night’s storm.

Spokesman Simon McMillan said: “The biggest issue affecting the electricity network has been uprooted trees and other debris blown on to overhead power lines, which has caused damage and brought down the power lines in some areas.

“The company will do all that it can to restore supplies as quickly as possible.

“However, a number of roads and bridges have been blocked and closed by fallen trees which could restrict access in certain locations, and where wind speeds remain high engineers will not be able to climb poles and work at height.”

Robin Gisby, managing director of network operations at Network Rail, said this week “has been one of the most challenging periods we have faced in recent times”.

Thursday night’s storms meant that several trains were delayed yesterday morning so lines could be examined in daylight before trains set off.

The line from London to Portsmouth via Haslemere is blocked by four landslips near Liphook, and will stay closed over the weekend.

The track at Ockley between Horsham and Dorking is also closed following a serious landslip.

A spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group, which speaks for the rail industry, said: “We’d like to apologise to passengers whose journeys over the festive period have been affected by the bad weather of the last few days.

“Hundreds of rail staff have been working round the clock to clear tracks but some services have started later than planned to ensure passengers can complete their journeys safely.”

North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) took to Twitter to warn people about going outside in the gales.

A spokeswoman said the service had taken half a dozen calls in Lancashire alone about people being blown over by the wind, though only minor injuries were reported.

NWAS said that, as a precaution, people should stay indoors, out of the windy weather.

Conservative MP for Hastings and Rye, Amber Rudd, criticised Southeastern trains for failing to provide a replacement bus service for her constituents in the commuter belt towns.

While Southern Rail was offering workers the option of commuting to London via bus and even using Twitter to post regular updates, Southeastern services, including their communications, had been “lamentable”, she said.

“So Southern have really done very well,” said Ms Rudd. “I think it’s partly because they’ve got Gatwick Airport on their tail wanting a better service.

“But Southeastern has not been anywhere near as good, and I have received a lot of complaints about them. They have been just too complacent”.

The RAC has reported a 20% increase in breakdowns across the country, rising to a 40% increase in the south and south east between Christmas Eve and yesterday.

A combination of storms and floods, congestion caused by shoppers hitting the Boxing Day sales and those heading home after the Christmas break, have all contributed to the spike in breakdowns over the last few days.

Sarah Rice, an RAC spokeswoman, said: “We are maintaining increased levels of both patrol and support team hours as we prepare for the onslaught of shoppers over the busy sale weekend.

“The anticipated early return to work on Monday inevitably sees high volumes of breakdowns.”

The RAC advises motorists to give cars a five mile drive to test the battery, check tyre pressures and tread, coolant and screen wash levels, and make sure the windscreen wipers are working properly.

UK Power Networks, which owns electricity lines and cables in London, the south east and east of England, said it will almost triple its compensation for those affected by long-term power cuts.

When the high winds struck on Thursday night, power was initially interrupted to more than 300,000 customers.

It said that last night 1,132 properties in Kent, more than 225 in Surrey and nearly 400 in Sussex were still without power.

Director of customer services Matt Rudling said: “This is such a difficult time of year for people to be without power and so many families have also been flooded out of their homes.

“Our hearts go out to our customers and we have been trying different ways to help them, from arranging Christmas dinners to providing more help and tools on our website.”

A spokesman added: “As a gesture of goodwill UK Power Networks has decided to boost the industry standard payment from £27 to £75 for customers who are without power for 48-60 hours including Christmas Day, and additional payments will be made to any customers off supply for longer up to a maximum of £432.”

Kent County Council leader Paul Carter said better flood defences were needed to protect the area.

Speaking in Yalding, one of the worst affected areas, he told BBC Breakfast: “It would be nice to have extra money from central government to build some proper flood defences for this part of the country and the county of Kent.

“This area here in Yalding is very prone to flooding. This is certainly the worst flood that’s been in this area for some 30 to 40 years but it does happen far too frequently.

“The big issue is there needs to be better flood defences built for this part of the Medway river because it’s prone to flooding. I think everybody has done everything that they possibly could do to help and support the residents.”

Despite the criticism from residents, Mr Carter said he believed the emergency planning operation in Kent had worked ``exceptionally well''.

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “Generally, the whole of the emergency planning operation has worked exceptionally well, in my view, over the last three or four days.”

Following Mr Cameron’s visit to Yalding, he said that he had discussed the situation with No 10.

“I was speaking with his office last night and reassured him that the emergency planning teams had done everything they could to help and support at the start of the floods,” he said.

He said that the provision of a flood defence scheme for the village would be a matter for central government.

“The Government fund the Environment Agency for the flood defences,” he said.

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