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Flooding Warnings Downgraded by U.K. Along Thames Towns

The U.K. downgraded 14 flood warnings in commuter towns along the River Thames west of London, indicating there’s no longer a threat to life.

The “severe” warning denomination was lifted though river levels remain high and properties may be at risk for months with saturated grounds, according to the Environment Agency that’s in charge of flood defense. Two severe flood warnings remain in place in Somerset, southwest England.

“An improving situation on the Thames has meant that we have been able to remove the severe flood warnings but we will continue to see the impacts of flooding,” Mat Crocker, a flood risk manager at the agency, said in an e-mailed statement. “Groundwater flooding will continue to threaten properties for some time.”

Britain is reeling from a series of storms since December that saturated the ground, overwhelmed rivers across the south and battered the coasts. While floods along the Thames and in Somerset may have peaked, waters might take weeks to drain in some areas, the Environment Agency said.

The agency yesterday said waters on the Thames are predicted to rise again over the next five days as recent rains filter downstream. As well as the severe warnings, it had 118 flood warnings and 166 flood alerts in place at 5:30 p.m.

“From late Wednesday into Thursday, areas which have already flooded may flood again up to but not over the levels already experienced,” the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, which includes some of the worst-affected commuter towns, said today on its website.

Unsettled Outlook

The U.K.’s Met Office has said the outlook for this week is “unsettled.” While the forecaster has predicted less extreme downpours and winds, it maintains a yellow rain warning, the third-highest level, for the southwest including southern Somerset. It said as much as 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) may fall.

“This is not expected to be as prolonged or as heavy as the rain last week but, given the saturated ground, the public should be aware that this still has the potential either to lead to localized flooding or to exacerbate existing issues,” the Met Office said.

The Thames Barrier, a flood defense downstream from central London, was closed yesterday for a record 18th consecutive time to reduce the risk to the capital from tidal surges, according to the Environment Agency. Parts of the river last week reached their highest levels in more than 60 years.

Some 3,000 military personnel have been deployed to assist in flood-affected areas, and 5,000 more are standing by, Defense Secretary Philip Hammond said yesterday.

Flood Tourism

Sunny weather yesterday brought flood “tourists” to the Thames, leading to complaints from residents that waves created by vehicles driving through floodwaters were entering their properties, Surrey police said.

“We have had reports that people are visiting flood-hit areas specifically to drive their vehicles through the floods,” Assistant Chief Constable Gavin Stephens said. “Flood tourism is not helpful -- if there is no reason to drive through water, then please stay away.”

Flooding costs are approaching 600 million pounds ($1 billion), with damage to roads and infrastructure probably costing the country “several hundred million,” Ernst & Young said yesterday.

Prime Minister David Cameron today announced a 10 million-pound support program for affected businesses. That’s on top of a Feb. 12 pledge to make 10 million pounds available for farmers to repair damage and for flood-prevention measures.

“The government is taking action across the board to deal with the clear-up and help hard-working people affected by the floods,” Cameron said in a statement. “Dealing with these floods will be a long haul, requiring a stepped-up national effort.”

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