Wartime spirit helps defiant communities battle floods in Britain

Turmoil of one community shows scale of crisis facing nation, with forecast of £1b clean-up bill

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 February, 2014, 10:40pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 February, 2014, 11:16pm


Residents of a village near London evoked Britain's "wartime spirit" as they faced freak floods.

After the Thames burst its banks, posing a serious threat to the capital, they rallied to assist those worst-hit as the deluge swamped their homes.

But, with the flooding expected to worsen later in the week, there was frustration at the lack of official help for those in normally tranquil Wraysbury.

Across the nation, the cost of clearing up winter floods and storms that have ravaged Britain could hit £1 billion (HK$12.7 billion) if rain continues to fall on water-logged ground and causes damage to more homes and businesses, an insurance expert has warned. Meanwhile, Wraysbury resident John Francis, a scuba diver who was dressed for the occasion in his wetsuit, said: "There's a good community spirit, but there's had to be because we've had no help from outside.

"The Environment Agency hasn't been particularly helpful. They've been concentrating on other areas."

Francis had been out checking what would normally be dry land, but had to pull back because the current was too strong.

Locals have transformed the primary school hall into a co-ordination centre as well as organising roadblocks and providing help for evacuated residents and patrols to deter looters.

But many were angry that the authorities, particularly the beleaguered Environment Agency, had not done more to protect their village from the surging water levels, following the wettest January since 1766. The Environment Agency issued 14 severe flood warnings - meaning lives are at risk - in affluent Surrey and Berkshire to the west of the capital, after the Thames broke its banks on Monday.

Some areas are already under water, including parts of Great Windsor Park, the grounds of Queen Elizabeth's castle at Windsor. On Monday, accountancy firm PwC revised up its forecast for the cost of flooding in December and January to £630 million, including a £500 million bill for the insurance industry.

But as the rain continued to fall in parts of the southwest, and swelling rivers reached the outskirts of London, one insurer said the cost could easily increase.

Justin Gott, of insurance firm Hiscox, said: "Many parts of the country are saturated, which means further flooding is inevitable as the rain continues to fall. If the rains continue into March or April, it's not impossible for this to become a £1billion event."

Inside Wraysbury primary school, Sylvia Davies said the floods had brought out the British "wartime spirit" - showing defiance in the face of adversity.

But she said the authorities' response had been "hopeless", adding: "There has been nobody to help at all. We need sandbags desperately, but they have only just arrived. There have been a few break-ins so it has all been a bit of a nightmare."

Scuba diver Francis checked river level measurements on his mobile phone. The floodwaters were likely to worsen yesterday.

"It's pretty desperate," he said. "A lot of people are trying to stick it out in their homes for as long as they can, but the river is still rising. Until it recedes, we can't do anything."

Additional reporting by The Guardian