Flood-hit Britain suffered a fresh battering on Wednesday from storms and high winds that caused power cuts to nearly 150,000 homes, the cancellation of football matches and the death of one man.
Gusts approaching 160 kilometres 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, southwest England, and 147,000 homes, mostly in Wales, were left without power after high winds brought down power cables, the authorities said.
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.
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.
Coastal areas in western England could also be flooded after being pounded by high waves.
Fourteen severe flood warnings – indicating a danger to life – were in place in Berkshire and Surrey to the west of London, while two remain in Somerset in southwest England, the first area to be badly hit.
Forecasters said 70 millimetres 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 had 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 reporters.
“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 against 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.
One of its officials, David Murphy, addressed Wraysbury’s residents alongside volunteer flood warden Su Burrows – who berated Britain’s defence minister on live television on Tuesday.
Although Murphy faced a few angry questions he got a round of applause, and Burrows told the crowd: “These guys are our friends.”
The Environment Agency’s 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”.
“I want communities who are suffering and people who see water lapping at their doors to know that when it comes to the military, when it comes to sandbags, when it comes to restoring broken flood defences, all of those things, money is no object,” he said.
Cameron 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 (HK$64,000) would be available to businesses and homeowners affected by flooding to allow them to better protect their properties in future.
But that was little consolation to towns like Staines, just a few kilometres from London Heathrow Airport, one of the world’s busiest air hubs.