Princes William and Harry helped flood protection efforts on the River Thames west of London as a new storm hit the U.K. with drenching rains, threatening to prolong the risk of inundations for another week.
The princes, second and fourth in line to the British throne, joined members of the Household Cavalry and Network Rail staff yesterday lugging sandbags to shore up defenses in the riverside Berkshire village of Datchet, video footage from the Guardian newspaper’s website shows.
Hundreds of homes in commuter-belt towns along the river are already under water and swathes of Somerset in southwest England have been submerged since before Christmas. Water levels have reached their highest in more than 60 years, according to the Environment Agency.
“The risk of flooding continues, especially along large rivers like the Thames and Severn and in Somerset,” the agency’s Chief Executive Officer Paul Leinster said in a statement on its website.
A succession of storms since the beginning of December have brought record rainfall to parts of England, inundating at least 5,800 homes, bringing chaos to rail transport and battering the shoreline with the biggest coastal surges in decades. A new storm with 80-mile-per-hour winds and rain threatens to deluge the worst-hit parts of Britain.
Thousands of households lost electricity after a storm three days ago ripped up power lines, trees and roofs. Almost 42,000 customers were without power across Wales and southern England, the Energy Networks Association said in a Twitter post last night.
December to February is shaping up to be the wettest winter for parts of England since records began in 1776.
“We’re facing a very difficult time because we’ve got the wettest start to a year for 250 years,” Prime Minister David Cameron told ITV News yesterday from Blackpool in northwest England, which has also been battered by storms. “We are fighting on every front.”
As of 2:02 a.m. local time today, 530 flights into and out of London’s Heathrow airport had been delayed and 45 were canceled, said FlightAware, a Houston-based tracking service.
Winds as high as 80 mph (129 kilometers per hour) may hit the south coast, and rainfall may total 4 centimeters (1.6 inches) in parts of the southwest and south Wales by mid-morning, the Met Office weather service said.
“The public should be aware of the potential for disruption to travel as well as trees being uprooted and perhaps damage to buildings,” the forecaster said.
As of 2:08 a.m., the Environment Agency had issued 22 severe flood warnings. In the southeast, a warning was posted yesterday for Lymington, where the agency said waves may overtop the sea wall. Warnings were also announced for the southwest in places including Chiswell, Christchurch Harbour Side and West Bay Harbour in Dorset.
They add to severe warnings already in place along the Thames, indicating a danger to life. The agency has issued a further 209 warnings that inundations are expected, and 325 alerts that they’re possible.
To the west of London, towns including Windsor, Datchet, Wraysbury, Staines, Egham, Chertsey and Shepperton Green remain at risk in coming days, the agency said yesterday, estimating that 1,135 homes have been flooded in the Thames Valley since Jan. 29.
The Environment Agency has ordered temporary defenses from Sweden and the Netherlands. Yesterday it was putting up barrages in Chertsey and Staines, having worked Feb. 13 to protect the southern cathedral city of Winchester from the rising River Itchen.