UK faces triple weather threat

Battered Britain has been told to expect a triple threat from the elements, with warnings in place for heavy rainfall, gale-force winds and snow.

UK faces triple weather threat

Battered Britain has been told to expect a triple threat from the elements, with warnings in place for heavy rainfall, gale-force winds and snow.

More than 1,000 homes have been evacuated in the Thames Valley and the West Country, and others have been left without electricity.

The military has come to the aid of the most vulnerable, with transport links disrupted and whole streets cut off as flood water rises to waist level in the worst-affected areas.

Many reported some minor respite yesterday, as days of heavy rain gave way to clear skies.

And the Environment Agency (EA) confirmed it had suspended plans to axe hundreds of jobs, in the wake of the flooding crisis.

The agency’s chief executive Paul Leinster emailed staff saying: “We are reviewing the timetable for the change programme... We will not be seeking any further engagement with staff on ways of working during this period and will not be entering into any formal consultation arrangements.”

It comes as the Met Office has predicted a return to the worst of the winter weather over the next 24 hours, with almost every pocket of the UK experiencing downpours, winds or snow, much of it falling on already-saturated ground.

The Environment Agency has around 400 warnings in place – including 17 severe flood warnings, which identify a risk to life.

Charles Powell, meteorologist with the Met Office, said: “It’s going to be bad, no question about it.

“There will be a big band of rain starting in the South West and moving up, some strong winds of up to 80mph in some exposed areas of the south coast, and even snowfall predicted. The only thing we haven’t got is the fog.”

He said up to 40mm (1.6ins) of rain could fall in the South West today, before it heads north towards Scotland.

He said few places would get through to tomorrow afternoon without experiencing poor weather.

Prime Minister David Cameron said he is “very sorry” for the suffering caused by the extreme weather afflicting large swathes of the country.

Visiting Blackpool in Lancashire to view relief efforts, Mr Cameron told ITV1’s Daybreak: “People need to be reassured that we will do whatever it takes to help people during this very difficult time.”

Asked whether he would repeat Communities Secretary Eric Pickles’s apology for the Government’s early response to the crisis, Mr Cameron said: “Of course I am very sorry for any way that people have suffered.”

Mr Cameron said the Government’s Cobra emergency committee met before Christmas to deal with the impact of the tidal surge on the east coast and soon after then as the Somerset Levels were flooded.

“Obviously, we are facing a very difficult time because we have got the wettest start to the year for 250 years and these are extraordinary weather events, but we are fighting on every front to help people,” he said.

“We have deployed the military, we have got thousands of sandbags being put around people’s houses, over 300,000 people had their electricity reconnected last night. If you look at the state of our flood defences, over 1.3 million homes have been protected by the flood defences that are in place.

“We are making sure that today, before the next rise in the level of the Thames over the weekend, we do everything we can to protect more homes and protect more communities.”

Mr Cameron acknowledged that the extreme weather will have an impact on the UK’s economy as it recovers from the downturn.

Asked if the floods could push Britain back into recession, the Prime Minister told Daybreak: “Obviously, the weather will have an effect on what is happening in our economy.

“But I want businesses to know that the Government is standing behind them.”

Mr Cameron repeated his pledge that “money is no object” in the relief effort.

“We will reimburse 100% of the spending (councils) have to take to protect people,” he said.

“I think it is very important that this message gets out: in this relief effort, we will spend what is necessary.”

The Environment Agency said yesterday that it expects hundreds more properties to be threatened by flooding.

At its height, hundreds of thousands of homes were left without power after gusts of up to 108mph battered parts of the country in the “Wild Wednesday” storms, which left one man dead and hundreds stranded as transport networks were hit.

In the highlands of Wales, northern England, Northern Ireland and Scotland, the rain could turn to snow, with 5cm to 10cm (2-4 ins) falling above 300 metres (1,000ft) and perhaps as much as 20cm (8ins) above 400 metres (1,300ft).

Windsor, Maidenhead and communities along the Thames in Surrey remain at high risk of flooding from the River Thames, with significant flooding of homes and businesses expected.

Flooding continues on the Somerset Levels and Moors, and there is still a high risk of coastal floods in Dorset.

The EA’s Mr Leinster said: “We ask people to remain vigilant and take action where necessary. We expect to see river levels rising again with more rain forecast for Friday and Saturday.”

Since early December, 5,800 properties have been flooded across the country, with high winds causing further problems yesterday.

Environment Agency regional director Howard Davidson denied that measures to protect urban areas from floods had shifted the problem on to people in the countryside.

Mr Davidson said: “The continued investment programme by ourselves and our predecessors is protecting millions of people from flooding. Whenever we design a scheme, we make sure we do not compromise anybody else’s position.”

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