U.K. Towns Face More Floods as Costs Seen at $1.6 Billion

Waterlogged towns on the River Thames west of London braced for more floods as rains persisted across southern England and Deloitte LLP said the storms may cost insurers 1 billion pounds ($1.6 billion) by April.

The Environment Agency has 16 severe flood warnings in place, 14 of them along England’s most famous waterway. Towns in London’s commuter belt including Chertsey, Egham and Datchet are affected. Two warnings remain in Somerset in southwest England, where some roads have been cut off since December.

Prime Minister David Cameron, who visited the southwest yesterday after two months of record-breaking rain, moved to ease tensions between politicians and the Environment Agency over the flood response, saying everyone must focus on helping those affected. Property damage will raise costs for insurers and premiums may see “modest increases,” Deloitte said today.

“If we get continued rain and storms through the months of February and March, we could easily see a figure of a billion pounds for the industry,” James Rakow, an insurance partner at the consulting firm, told Mark Barton and Anna Edwards on Bloomberg Television’s “Countdown.”

Rains have been swelled by what the Met Office, the U.K. weather service, says is a persistent track of storms related to an unusually strong North Atlantic jetstream that typically flows farther north. There’s little respite likely for southern England, with meteorologists forecasting rain every day through Feb. 14.

Thames, Severn

“There is a high risk that the Thames, the Severn and the Wye will flood in the middle of the week,” Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, the government minister coordinating the response to the floods, told lawmakers yesterday in London. The Severn is the U.K.’s longest river.

Pickles has criticized Environment Agency Chairman Chris Smith over the handling of the crisis, telling the British Broadcasting Corp. two days ago that ministers “relied too much” on the agency’s advice and that “we thought we were dealing with experts.” Smith told the BBC yesterday morning that his staff knew “100 times more about flood management than any politician ever does.”

Following a meeting of the government emergency committee, Cobra, last night, Pickles issued a statement on the government’s actions, which include “centralizing the control of sandbags, ordering additional temporary flood defenses and ensuring that existing defenses are being shared and deployed where necessary.”

Wind Forecast

Storms tomorrow may create wind gusts of as much as 80 miles an hour (130 kilometers an hour) through southern England, the Met Office said on its website.

A succession of storms and tidal surges have buffeted Britain since December, flooding more than 8,000 homes and damaging coastal infrastructure, including the main railway connecting the southwestern city of Plymouth with the rest of England.

While Network Rail is working on a plan to reconnect the rail line, two of three train routes to Exeter and Devon in southwest England are open, Pickles said. Additional flights have been scheduled to Newquay on the southwest coast and air fares have been reduced, he said.

Military support remains on standby across the south, according to the Cobra statement.

‘Difficult Time’

“This is a time for everyone to get on with the jobs that they have,” Cameron said as he visited Portland in Dorset yesterday. “I’m only interested in one thing and that’s making sure everything the government can do is being done and will go on being done to help people through this difficult time.”

The Environment Agency’s severe flood warnings indicate that there’s potential danger to life. The agency has also issued 133 flood warnings, signaling flooding is expected, and 215 alerts that floods are possible.

The Met Office issued a yellow warning for rain, the third-highest level, across a swathe of southern England, predicting more than 30 millimeters (1.2 inches) in parts of the southwest today.

Total rainfall for December and January across southeast and central southern England was 372.2 millimeters, the wettest such period since detailed data was first published in 1910, according to the Met Office. The January total for the region was the highest in data stretching to 1766, the office said.

A further 600 homes flooded in the past week, according to the Environment Agency, adding to the 7,500 homes nationwide that Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said on Feb. 3 had been affected since the beginning of December.

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