Storms continue to batter England

21:20, Feb 09 2014
WILD: Storm waves break at Porthleven in Cornwall, England.

Large parts of southern England face more rainfall and winds of as strong as 130 kilometres an hour as the Royal Marines, police and fire teams evacuated homes after flood defences were breached.

Following two months of rain and storms that have drenched Britain, two severe flood warnings were in force across England and Wales today along with 181 medium-risk warnings and almost 271 low-risk alerts, the Environment Agency said.

Prime Minister David Cameron this week visited the worst-hit county of Somerset, where about 60 houses were evacuated, amid criticism his government cut funds for flood defence and had failed to do enough to avert disaster, including the dredging of riverbeds.

"We have got to do everything we can to help," Cameron said on February 7. "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."

A landslip on Saturday (local time) at Crewkerne, Somerset, cut train lines between London Waterloo and Exeter St Davids, according to National Rail. A seven-year-old boy died Saturday in Chertsey, Surrey, of suspected carbon monoxide poisoning from a pump his family were using to remove flood water, the Telegraph newspaper reported. Fifteen people, including police officers, were also taken to the hospital as a precaution.

"The weather continues to be hugely challenging, with further wind and waves threatening the southwest coast and even more rain threatening to cause flooding along rivers across southwest, central and southern England," Pete Fox, head of strategy and investment at the agency, said in a statement.

More than 7500 homes have been engulfed, and coastal defences battered, since the start of December. The southeast had its wettest January on record and the east coast was hit by the biggest tidal surge in 60 years. Tides in Wales were the highest 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 Saturday.

Cameron's government has said it will spend 130 million pounds (NZ$257 million) in new funds to shore up flood protection during the next two years. Affected residents and the opposition Labour Party have criticised the government for responding too slowly and for cutting funds for flood defences since taking power in 2010.

Environment Agency Chairman Chris Smith, who's in charge of the defences, said on February 7 on his first visit to Somerset since the crisis that he had no plans to resign. He was shouted at by an angry resident telling him to "sort the rivers out", British Broadcasting Corporation footage showed.

The "most important thing" is to dredge the Tone and Parrett rivers "as soon as possible," Smith said, in response to criticism by residents who blame the flooding on a lack of recent dredging.

The agency said it was 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 rail travel, with operators CrossCountry, First Great Western, South West Trains, and Southeastern 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, wasn't expected to reopen until March 18, after an 80-metre section of sea wall collapsed under the track at Dawlish this week.

- WP Bloom