Flood-hit Britain suffered a fresh battering from storms and high winds that caused power outages to nearly 150,000 homes, the cancellation of football matches and the death of one man.
Gusts approaching 100 miles per hour tore at parts of England and Wales, and the River Thames was predicted to rise to its highest level in more than 60 years in places, threatening towns and villages to the west of London.
One man died after being electrocuted while attempting to move a fallen tree that had brought down power lines in Wiltshire, and 147,000 homes, mostly in Wales, were left without power after high winds knocked down power cables, the authorities said.
The conditions brought chaos for commuters, stranding a train carrying hundreds of passengers after overhead lines came down in Yorkshire.
Passenger Carol Machin told BBC radio: “We haven’t moved. It’s a complete accident, there’s nothing you can do. There’s electrical line here, there and everywhere.”
The Met Office national weather service issued a red warning — the highest threat level — for “exceptionally strong winds” in western parts of Wales and northwest England.
More than 1,100 properties along the Thames have been flooded since January 29, authorities said.
More soldiers were drafted in to rescue residents and lay sandbags in deluged villages where primary schools have been transformed into makeshift emergency centres.
Fourteen severe flood warnings — indicating a danger to life — were in place in Berkshire and Surrey, while two remain in Somerset, the first area to be badly hit.
– More rain forecast –
Forecasters said 2.75 inches of rain would fall by Friday in southwest England.
Emergency efforts were picking up following criticism of a sluggish response, and the military said 2,000 soldiers were available to help, with hundreds pressed into action already.
In Wraysbury, the Thameside village that has been submerged since the weekend, 83-year-old Jennie Francis’s house has flooded and her hallway was filled with water.
She has been forced to take refuge at her son’s home, but she said the arrival of the army had made a huge difference to the village’s morale.
“The soldiers have been absolutely marvellous, it’s wonderful to have them here. People were cross before, but now they are relieved to have some help,” she told AFP.
“The soldiers have been going around knocking on people’s doors asking for help. They’re lovely.”
Major General Patrick Sanders, who is co-ordinating the armed forces response, called the conditions an “almost unparalleled natural crisis”.
The bad weather also hit midweek football fixtures, with Manchester City’s Premier League match with Sunderland and Everton’s game with Crystal Palace both called off.
The twitter sites of the host football clubs said the safety of the fans travelling to and from the grounds could not be guaranteed because of the strong winds.
The embattled Environment Agency — the government body responsible for flood defences that has faced the brunt of criticism — fought to defend its reputation.
Chief Executive, Paul Leinster, said: “We continue to have teams out on the ground 24/7 working to protect lives, homes, businesses, communities and farmland.”
Prime Minister David Cameron chaired the government’s COBRA emergency committee and then told parliament he stood by his pledge that “money is no object in this relief effort”.
He warned that a further 800 to 1,000 homes were at risk of flooding as the Thames rose.
He also said grants of up to £5,000 would be available to businesses and homeowners affected by flooding to allow them to better protect their properties in future.
Bank of England chief Mark Carney warned that the weather could stifle Britain’s economic recovery.
“There’s the disruption to economic activity that we see just through transport, but farming clearly will be affected for some time,” he told ITV News. “It is something that will affect the near time outlook”.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]