Royal Marines, police and fire teams helped evacuate homes in southwest England after flood defenses were breached, with more heavy rainfall due today and tomorrow.
In the latest calamity during two months of rain and storms that have drenched the U.K., about 60 homes were evacuated after a flood barrier in Somerset gave way at 1:30 a.m. Prime Minister David Cameron visited the county today following criticism his government cut funds for flood defense and failed to do enough to avert disaster, including dredging riverbeds.
“We have got to do everything we can to help,” Cameron said. “We will be dredging to make sure these rivers can carry a better capacity of water, so there are lessons to be learned and I’ll make sure they’re learned.”
More than 7,500 U.K. homes have been engulfed, and coastal defenses battered, since the start of December. The southeast had its wettest January on record, while the east coast was hit by the biggest tidal surge in 60 years, and Wales its highest tides since 1997. All roads to the communities of Muchelney and Thorney in Somerset have been cut off since Christmas Eve.
“This crisis is hugely traumatic for our residents and communities,” Somerset County Council Leader John Osman said.
Threats to the region and beyond persist as the Met Office placed an amber warning, the second-highest, for rain and wind across a swath of southern England through most of tomorrow. At 3:15 p.m. local time, the Environment Agency had in place 168 flood warnings with two deemed severe, or a danger to life.
“The public should be prepared for disruption due to flooding,” the Met Office said on its website. “Another band of rain, heavy at times, accompanied by coastal gales will affect southwest England during Friday evening, moving quickly east across other southern areas early on Saturday.”
Cameron’s government says it will spend 130 million pounds ($212 million) of new funds to shore up protection in the next two years. That follows accusations by affected residents and the opposition Labour Party that ministers have responded too slowly and cut funds for flood defenses since taking power.
Environment Agency Chairman Chris Smith, in charge of the defenses, said today on his first visit to Somerset since the crisis began in December that he had no plan to resign. Smith was barracked by an angry resident telling him to “sort the rivers out,” British Broadcasting Corp. footage showed.
Smith said that the “most important thing” is to dredge the Tone and Parrett rivers “as soon as possible,” a response to criticism by residents who blame the flooding in part on a lack of recent dredging of the waterways.
The agency says it’s using pumping equipment continuously in Somerset, where both of its severe warnings were in place, removing as much as 2.9 million metric tons of water a day.
Landslides and floods are also hampering U.K. rail travel, with operators CrossCountry, First Great Western, Southwest Trains, Southeastern, Southern and Abellio Greater Anglia hit by delays, according to the National Rail Enquiries’ website.
The rail line between Exeter and Newton Abbot, connecting the cities of Plymouth and Penzance to the rest of England, isn’t expected to reopen until March 18, after an 80-meter (260 foot) section of sea wall collapsed under the track at Dawlish this week. Engineers worked through the night to cut away the rails and today are spraying concrete over the exposed soil as a temporary defense, according to a statement e-mailed today by Network Rail, which is in charge of track maintenance.
To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Morales in London at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reed Landberg at email@example.com