Britain gets respite from flooding crisis

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 February, 2014, 10:36am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 February, 2014, 10:36am

Britain’s flooding crisis eased with the arrival of drier weather following a series of fierce storms, while the government on Monday pledged a £10 million (HK$130 million) package of support for flood-hit businesses.

The country is counting the cost of storms that have claimed several lives and left tens of thousands of homes without power.

Despite the drier weather conditions, swathes of Britain remain on high alert as people struggle to protect homes from floodwaters, which are still expected to rise.

Britain’s Environment Agency (EA) has 16 severe flood warnings in place for the south west and the Thames Valley, with almost 130 flood warnings and 187 flood alerts.

Prime Minster David Cameron on Monday announced that small and medium sized firms would have access to £10 million in funds from the emergency Business Support Scheme in order to keep trading during the clear up.

Business Secretary Vince Cable explained: “It is vital that small businesses affected by the flooding get assistance as quickly as possible.

“We will inform local authorities of their allocations from the Business Support Scheme on Thursday to assist businesses with clean-up costs or help them to continue trading.”

The government on Sunday revealed it had asked the army conduct a rapid inspection of flood defences.

“The response that we are delivering is a proper response... but we are dealing with an extraordinary set of weather events. It has taken some time to mobilise the resources,” Defence Minister Philip Hammond told the BBC on Sunday.

He admitted that the government could have called on the army to assist much earlier.

Hammond said more than 3,000 troops were currently deployed to help, with another 5,000 on standby.

The response that we are delivering is a proper response but we are dealing with an extraordinary set of weather events
Philip Hammond

“We offered troops quite a long while ago to civil authorities who wanted them,” he added.

“What we have done over the last ten days is push them a bit more aggressively, those civil authorities.”

He added that the Royal Engineers would be involved to do a “very rapid inspection of all the nation’s flood defences”.

“We are going to try and do in five weeks what would be a two-year programme of inspection, just to assess the level of damage.

“This series of weather events over the last two months has caused some quite serious damage to our infrastructure - flood defences, rail infrastructure, road infrastructure - and we have got to assess that.”

Cameron thanks ‘hard work’

Cameron hosted another meeting of Cobra, the government’s emergency response committee, on Sunday and warned of more potential flooding.

“Some rain is expected at times next week,” he said. “This additional rainfall will add to high groundwater levels and will impact slow feeding rivers over the days ahead.

“The recent flooding has been a tragedy for all those affected and my thoughts are with them.

“Extensive efforts to protect and repair properties and infrastructure are ongoing by many thousands of people among agencies, the military and the emergency services,” he added. “I speak for us all when I thank them profusely for their hard work.”

In a newspaper interview published on Sunday, opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband blamed climate change for the run of bad weather, and urged government ministers to treat global warming as a “national security issue”.

At least three people were killed in separate incidents in Ireland, Britain and the English Channel after violent winds and heavy rain swept in from the Atlantic on Friday.

Pulling down power lines and disrupting transport networks across the region, the storm brought fresh misery to flood-hit communities in Britain, parts of which are suffering their wettest start to the year for 250 years.