UK & World News

  • 11 February 2014, 17:03

Defence Secretary Tackled Over Thames Floods

Soldiers and firefighters are rescuing people from flooded homes on the banks of the River Thames, after a Government minister was told volunteers are risking their lives to save others.

Stacks of sandbags - described as "like gold dust" by one shopkeeper - have been brought in to shore up riverside defences.

There are fears up to 4,000 more properties could be inundated with water, with further severe weather, including up to 70mm of rain and 80mph gusts, forecast for the rest of the week.

Troops have been deployed in Chertsey, Surrey, in nearby Staines and in Wraysbury, Berkshire, and emergency services are going from street to street, helping people whose homes are under threat from record water levels.

The reinforcements arrived just hours after Defence Secretary Philip Hammond was confronted by a flood warden in Wraysbury live on Sky News.

Su Burrows, who previously pleaded directly to the Prime Minister for help, told him: "There are 100 people here helping but not one of them is from the Environment Agency. They're sat in an office and they need to be here."

During an emotional exchange, she added: "We need the army here. We said that yesterday but no one is taking us seriously.

"What will it take for you to understand? We are seriously in need of help."

Mr Hammond insisted he understood people's frustrations and said the military was ready to tackle any tasks assigned.

However, he said authorities had told him they currently have no need for additional manpower, and explained soldiers would only be deployed in response to specific needs.

During a later visit to Staines, Surrey, he added: "We're dealing with an extraordinary event here. We'll do everything we can to protect lives and homes ... but we can't keep all the water back."

Thames Valley Police has declared a "major incident" in parts of Berkshire, where hundreds of properties have already been flooded.

Some 14 severe flood warnings, meaning there is an imminent danger to life, are in place between Datchet and Shepperton Green.

Two others are still in force for Somerset after what the Environment Agency has described as the wettest winter for 250 years.

The Environment Agency warned communities along the Thames and on the Somerset Levels to expect more flooding as heavy rain is expected on Wednesday.

It said around 100 properties remained flooded on the levels, where extra pumps are being brought in from the Netherlands to reduce levels on the River Parrett and Tone.

Since Monday, around 70 properties have been flooded along the River Thames.

Groundwater flooding is also expected in the next few days in Hampshire, Kent and parts of London.

Politicians from all parties have been meeting some of the 1,000 people forced to evacuate their homes, with David Cameron due to speak at a news conference in Downing Street after visiting some of the worst-hit areas.

During a trip to the coastal town of Dawlish, Devon, where part of a vital railway line collapsed after it was pounded by huge waves, he said: "We have to recognise it's going to take time to get things back to normal. We're in for a long haul but the Government will do everything it can."

Labour leader Ed Miliband praised the "incredibly professional" response from volunteers but said the Government had been "too slow" in handling the crisis as he was grilled by a resident in Wraysbury.

Asked what would be done to prevent stop floods happening in the future, he told her: "We need to deal with the immediate crisis and learn lessons for the future."

Hundreds of Royal Navy personnel have been filling sandbags in Chieveley, near Newbury, Berkshire, for distribution along the Thames Valley.

Further downstream in Datchet, Berkshire, where a 600-metre barrier was installed to protect homes and businesses, shopkeeper Isabel Gil said: "I would have thought there would be a lot of sandbags all prepared in advance for this situation but they seem like gold dust. I can't get hold of any."

Ms Burrows added: "It's going to raise spirits ... that help is finally on the way."

Some people have refused to leave their homes amid fears empty properties will be looted, although a Thames Valley Police spokesman said there had been "no reports" of criminal activity.

Meanwhile in Surrey, where many people are unable to get to work, £10m has been released by the county's police force to help ease the economic impact of the floods.

Kevin Hurley, the local police and crime commissioner, said: "It's important we help people now and worry about the future later."

As well as the River Thames, there are fears the River Severn and River Wye will also burst their banks.

Speaking after chairing an emergency Cobra meeting, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said: "I want to reassure the public that their safety remains our first priority. We are doing everything possible to protect people's homes and communities."

The Met Office has issued yellow weather warnings for further spells of heavy rain for the rest of the week, with up to 70mm possible in South West.

Gusts of up to 80mph are possible in the region on Wednesday and Thursday.

Sky News weather presenter Nazaneen Ghaffar said: "There's further rain to come today and tomorrow, and that's going to exacerbate the flooding problems.

"It really is looking extremely wet and windy over the next few days."

Meanwhile, commuters face further severe delays on rail networks, with services into and out of Paddington station among those worst affected.

Passengers have been advised to check services before attempting to travel.

:: Watch Sky News live on television, on Sky channel 501, Virgin Media channel 602, Freeview channel 82 and Freesat channel 202.

:: Sky News has a special programme dedicated to the floods crisis every night this week at 7pm.

:: You can also watch Storm Night Special this Thursday at 8pm on Sky 1 (Sky channel 106).

:: Email your photos and videos of the floods to news@sky.com.

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