Forecasters warn that another week of storms is on its way
Forecasters have warned of another week of storms as the Prime Minister prepares to lead the latest emergency meeting about the flooding crisis.
The heavy rain and winds of more than 60mph from yesterday will die down but the brief respite will be broken by another storm arriving tonight.
And more storms will continue to batter Britain until the weekend, weather forecasters MeteoGroup predicted.
Two severe flood warnings remain place in the crisis-hit Somerset Levels - where many residents have already been forced from their homes after weeks of heavy rain – while the Environment Agency has issued a third in the coastal village of Chiswell in Dorest.
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The authorities are being assisted by the armed forces to shore up sea defences in the village which were damaged in last week’s storms.
There are nearly 300 low-level flood alerts and almost 200 medium-risk flood warnings in place across the South West, Wales and central England, while several hundred homes in Dorset, Surrey and Cornwall were without power.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles chaired another meeting of the Cobra emergency committee last night but the Prime Minister will chair the meeting.
Earlier this week David Cameron promised to do “everything he can” to help the flood-stricken communities.
Mr Pickles took a fresh swipe at Environment Agency chief Lord Smith for his refusal to apologise to flood-hit victims.
“It’s not a sign of weakness,” he told the Mail on Sunday.
“A bit of reaching out and humanity and humility is good for everybody, whether a distinguished quangocrat or a member of the Cabinet.”
On whether Lord Smith should quit, he told the newspaper: “He has to make his own decision.”
But in an indication of his own position, he added: “I don’t see myself becoming the advocate of the ‘Save Chris Smith’ campaign or printing ‘Save The Environment Agency One’ T-shirts.
“It’s always good to get feedback from your customers. At least he’ll never have to hire a focus group to know what people are thinking,” he joked about Lord Smith’s hostile reception from locals.
Mr Pickles said the agency had “become riddled with political correctness” which had led it to halt vital drainage work such as dredging rivers.
“It worries me that in a politically-correct attempt to be more environmentally sound than the next person, something as basic as this has been forgotten,” he said.
“The people on the ground have done a fantastic job, but the agency has lost its way and become riddled with political correctness.”
There needed to be more public clarity about where agency money was spent, he suggested.
Meanwhile the Westcountry is now completely cut off by rail and operators have put on replacement bus services and slashed ticket prices for passengers.
Flooding at Athelney and between Taunton and Bridgwater in Somerset means that all mainline routes to the region from London are closed.
The diversionary route via Yeovil is also closed at Crewkerne because of a landslip and is expected to remain shut for up to a week.
This latest blow comes days after a stretch of the rail line connecting Cornwall to the rest of the country fell into the sea at Dawlish in Devon when an 80-yard stretch of the sea wall was destroyed by high tides and stormy seas.
The Met Office warned that river levels are expected to continue rising along the Thames, the Severn and the Dorset Stour this week.
England has faced the wettest January since 1766, and with the ground already saturated, further rainfall is increasing flood risk across the country, especially in the south.
Since before Christmas around 5,000 properties have been affected by flooding across the country, including 40 in Somerset.
Paul Gundersen, Met Office chief meteorologist, said: “We have another Atlantic storm bringing gales and heavy downpours to many parts of the UK this weekend.
“Monday is expected to bring a brief respite from the stormy conditions before more strong winds and rain set in from the west on Tuesday.
“This will bring the continuing risk of flooding and damaging winds bringing down trees to cause disruption to travel and power networks.”
The Ministry of Defence has put 1,600 personnel on six hours notice to help in the south of the country if needed, the Government said.
EA staff have been out in force across England to try to stop more people falling victim to the storms by installing flood defences, repairing damaged coastal defences, deploying sandbags and clearing river blockages.
Meanwhile, in Chertsey, Surrey police are investigating whether flooding led to the death of a seven-year-old boy, named in reports as Zane Gbangbola, who died after feeling unwell.
And in East Sussex, the ruined 148-year-old, Grade-I listed West Pier in Brighton survived another night of stormy weather after a large section collapsed into the English Channel on Wednesday.
An elderly woman has been taken to hospital with serious injuries after a tree fell on to a white Ford Fiesta in Birmingham.
In Croydon, South London a pedestrian underpass will be turned into an emergency pond to hold hundreds of thousands of litres of floodwater threatening homes and businesses.