UK & World News
Flood Victims In Somerset Targeted By Thieves
Flooding victims on the Somerset Levels, whose homes have been under water for more than a month, have been targeted by thieves.
There have been reports of "suspicious people and vehicles", including "people out in boats" in the middle of the night, in the area which has been left isolated by the floods.
One farmer was left without heating or hot water after around 600 gallons of domestic oil was stolen from his farm in Moorland overnight from Friday into Saturday.
During the same evening, two fire service quad bikes were taken from Burrowbridge.
Police have said they are aware of the reports and have urged residents to remain "alert".
"The problem is that we're getting so many flooding tourists and sightseers coming down here that it's hard to keep track of who's around, farmer James Winslade told the Western Daily Press.
Thieves stole "more than half" the oil from his tank, leaving him without any heating or hot water.
"At night it's very isolated. Some of the homes that are empty are being targeted and they are coming across the water on boats to get to them," he added.
Extra officers have been deployed to the area following thefts which are believed to have taken place overnight from January 31 to February 1.
Chief Superintendent Caroline Peters, who is in charge of the floods response, said: "We are aware of reports in the community of suspicious people and vehicles being seen in the area, particularly after dark.
"We have also heard rumours of people being out in boats at night, but at this stage we have no information to substantiate that.
"Our message to the community is that we will do all we can to protect you and your property.
"I would ask everyone to be alert, to look out for your neighbours, and to call us at any time if we are needed."
The warning comes as the Prime Minister's official spokesman said David Cameron wanted a premium rate government telephone helpline, set up by the Environment Agency for flood victims, to be "scrapped as quickly as it possibly can be".
They are having to pay up to 10.5p a minute from landlines and 41p a minute from mobile phones to call the 0854 number†for advice, with all the money going to a private firm, according to The Sun newspaper.
The PM's spokesman insisted the Government was providing "very significant" funding for flood defences both in rural and urban areas.
His comment came after Lord Smith of Finsbury, writing in The Daily Telegraph, warned Britain might have to choose whether it wanted to save "town or country" from future flooding because it was too costly to protect both.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, who visited the area last week, was summoned to the Commons to respond to an urgent question from his Labour counterpart Maria Eagle on the "unimaginable stressful and distressing" situation in Somerset.
He told MPs: "Recent Met Office figures show that Somerset received more rainfall in December and January than you would normally receive over an entire winter."
A total of 12 high-volume pumps are in use across the Levels. The combined pumping is enough to fill an Olympic swimming pool every 90 seconds.
Mr Paterson said†£100,000 was being spent each week on pumping, it had been agreed to dredge the Tone and Parrett rivers and that he would be chairing a further Cabinet Office meeting at 5pm to discuss the Government's response to the flooding.
There is no sign of the stormy weather abating and waterlogged communities have been told to brace themselves for more heavy rain and gusts of up to 70mph in some areas today.
The Met Office chief forecaster said: "High tides and large waves will lead to the risk of minor coastal flooding, mainly due to wave and spray overtopping, whilst a spell of heavy rain is likely before winds come down.
"Another 20mm of rain, perhaps with 30mm or more locally Cornwall and Pembroke, is likely, much of it within three hours or so.
"Whilst totals will be less (5-10mm) further east, pre-existing saturation brings the risk of flooding here too.
"Gales coupled with high tides brings the risk of waves overtopping coastlines."
And with the bad weather expected to last for days to come, the River Severn in Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire, the Frome and Avon in Dorset, the River Thames and its tributaries in Oxfordshire, West Berkshire, Reading, Slough and Hampshire and the Medway in Kent are all of concern this week.
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