UK & World News
Flooding: Military In Somerset To Help Residents
Military officials have been on the ground in Somerset drawing up contingency plans to provide practical help amid fears of further flooding.
With more heavy rain, high winds and high tides expected to hit the county later this week, service personnel are on alert to assist flood-hit residents.
The fire brigade has been helping people cut off by severe flooding on the Somerset Levels, visiting around 200 properties in recent weeks to see what their needs were.
But now military planners have gone to the area to help the authorities as the relief effort is ramped up. Around 40 homes in the county are still flooded.
The Met Office issued an amber warning for heavy rain in southwest England between 12pm on Friday and 3am on Saturday, and the public should be prepared for significant disruption from flooding across the Levels.
Pat Flaherty, deputy chief executive of Somerset County Council, said: "With potential for high winds and high tides and more rain...falling on an already soaked catchment we have potential for further flooding over the weekend.
"And with that, ongoing flooding for a number of weeks to come.
"We're still working very closely with the military who remain in Somerset, planning with us and we also have the resilience of knowing that their equipment and personnel are ready to be mobilised should we require them."
The Government's emergency Cobra committee has been meeting again to discuss the flooding situation.
Speaking about the military operation in Somerset, Major Al Robinson of the Royal Engineers told Sky News: "We are currently on reconnaissance, working in support of Somerset County Council.
"We are looking at the key areas under threat, and specifically at routes in and out the area, particularly at what we might be able to do in terms of assisting the local authority, particularly in the removal of waste and rubbish, and support current planning."
A local authority official accompanying the troops said: "It's a general reconnaissance, showing them the flooding situation."
The Ministry of Defence has tweeted that personnel involved in helping with Somerset floods are drawn from all three services, with the majority from Taunton-based 40 Commando Royal Marines.
In addition to vehicle crews, up to 100 military personnel are on stand-by for duties likely to include sandbag filling and loading.
The Red Cross has also sent the 7.5-tonne Unimog, an emergency supply vehicle capable of driving through deep floodwater, which has also been used to help people stranded on the Somerset Levels after nearly a month of flooding.
On Wednesday, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said specialist Army vehicles could be drafted in to help tackle the flooding, delivering food and sandbags and transporting people.
His intervention came after David Cameron said rapid action is needed to deal with floodwaters in the Somerset Levels and promised the dredging of rivers would begin as soon as water levels were reduced to a safe level.
Speaking about the floods, the Prime Minister said on Thursday: "People want to know we are doing everything possible to protect dwellings from flooding and we want a forward investment programme.
"I think people understand that there are severe weather events that can affect your country, you do everything you can to mitigate, but in the end you can't mitigate against every single thing."
The Government said the first time Somerset County Council had requested assistance was on Wednesday, but the deputy leader of the authority David Hall told Sky News they had been asking for help "for weeks".
Drainage experts blame two decades of under-investment in flood defence work for turning the Levels into a "disaster area" and said it was "very, very urgent" that rivers are dredged to prevent more damage to homes, livelihoods and wildlife.
Despite coming under fire from MPs and local councils, the Environment Agency (EA) insists that increased dredging of the rivers would not have prevented the recent flooding and was "often not the best long-term or economic solution".
But Bryony Sadler of the Flooding on the Levels Action Group argued it would have made a "massive difference", and said there would be no let up in the demand for action.
She said: "The land is just flooded beyond belief."
Speaking about flood risk, the EA's director of operations, David Jordan, told Sky News: "People are trying to present this as the agency's problem. It goes well beyond that and it's absolutely essential to recognise this is a shared problem.
"We need to work in partnership to do what we possibly can to reduce flood risk."
The arrival of the military came as farmers, politicians and church leaders demanded immediate action to alleviate what furious residents describe as "Third World" conditions.
Microbiologist Nathaniel Storey, who took samples from the flood water, said it was "absolutely teeming with bacteria and viruses".
He said it posed a risk to health and advised parents to take particular care with young children, whose toys may become contaminated.
Many parts of the Levels have been flooded since Christmas and there are fears it could be months before the water is completely pumped away.
Teams from the EA have been running dozens of pumps around the clock to drain away an estimated 1.5 million tonnes of water - the equivalent of 600 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
The EA has issued 43 flood warnings - where flooding is expected and immediate action required - mostly in the South West, the South East and Midlands. Another 162 flood alerts are also in place.
Labour's shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle said: "Almost a week after Somerset County Council declared the flooding a major incident, the Government has finally decided to respond."
She accused Mr Paterson of "dithering" and failing to take flooding seriously.
Meanwhile, hundreds of university students in Aberystwyth, Wales, are being told to leave the seaside resort over fears of powerful winds and possible nine-metre high tides this weekend.
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