UK & World News
Sandbag Chaos As Britain Braced For More Wind
Flood-hit residents are being charged by councils for sandbags, as Britain braces for more gale force winds set to strike the country later.
Some local authorities are limiting the number of sandbags that can be given to residents battling to save their homes from the floodwaters.
And those charging for sandbags are doing so despite Prime Minister David Cameron's pledge that "money is no object" to the relief effort.
Christchurch is among those asking residents to pay, while South Somerset Councils' website still says sandbags incur a charge.
Cornwall Council's arms-length company Cormac "maintains a stock of sandbags", which the council says can be distributed at "various locations" when required.
The council also said residents would be charged £3 per bag if they wish to purchase sandbags - but later said it would review its policy.
Minister for Local Government Brandon Lewis MP told Sky News: "There is no reason whatsoever for any council anywhere to charge anybody for sandbags.
"If sandbags are appropriate and they can be used for local residents, they should be doing so.
"We have spoken to every local authority in the country and are confident that there are more than enough supplies to meet local needs, with volunteers and military support on the ground to make them ready.
"We are able to supply up to 10,000 sandbags a day, and councils such as Northamptonshire and Lincolnshire have been coming to the aid of their neighbouring areas."
Some councils have imposed limits on the number of sandbags they will give to each household, with payment required if residents want more.
Mr Cameron later posted on his Twitter account: "I've told local councils they should not charge for sandbags in flood-hit areas - central government will pick up the cost."
Labour leader Ed Miliband said: "The Prime Minister made big promises this week, now he's got to deliver on them. The problem has been that the Government has been too slow and inconsistent in its response.
"We've seen another example of that today. Families shouldn't have to pay for sandbags but the Government seems in utter chaos and confusion about this issue."
But Ian Swithenbank, of the Local Government Association, appeared to criticise national leaders.
"It's interesting watching people make comments and the next day reverse that comment," he said.
"Perhaps if they said less and allowed people on the job to get on with it, it would go a lot better. The council's will do what they have to do and ignore some of the criticisms, or people who think they no what they're talking about."
Meanwhile, although the Environment Agency says water levels "stabilised" overnight in some of the worst-affected regions, the River Thames is predicted to rise to its highest level in more than 60 years.
The Met office has also warned of further gale force winds of up to 70mph, following the death of an elderly man who was killed as winds rose to more than 100mph in some parts of the UK.
The man, in his 70s, was trying to move a tree near Chippenham, in Wiltshire, which had brought down power cables.
Gusts of up to 108mph hit Aberdaron on the Lyn Peninsula in Wales over the past 24 hours, while winds of 96mph were recorded off the south coast of England.
The gales wreaked chaos in the Midlands and the North, with trees ripped from the ground and lorries tipped over by the winds.
The Met Office has also issued yellow warnings for snow, wind and ice across many parts of the UK on Thursday.
Winds of up to 70mph are expected to strike areas in the South West and the Midlands, with North Wales, Northern Ireland and northern England also due to be battered by high winds.
The Environment Agency has 14 severe flood warnings - meaning there is a danger to life - in place for the South East, covering regions close to the River Thames.
Two further severe flood warnings are in place for the South West and one for the Midlands.
There are around 350 flood warnings and alerts in place for the rest of the UK, meaning people in the affected areas are urged to take immediate action or to be prepared.
Prime Minister David Cameron is expected to cut short his duties at an international conference to focus on the response to the flooding.
He had been due to speak at the a conference in London on the illegal wildlife trade, alongside the Prince of Wales and Duke of Cambridge.
Mr Cameron chaired the first meeting of the new Cabinet committee set up to coordinate long-term plans on flood recovery.
The committee agree to look at the resilience of the transport network to extreme weather and review investment guidelines on flood defences, which have come under fire for being too strict to provide needed protection.
Another storm is due to strike Britain on Friday, bringing the risk of further flooding to regions that have struggled with heavy rainfall and been under water since December.
The Met Office has issued an 'amber' rain warning for the South West, with up to 40mm expected in parts of Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset
The inclement weather has caused travel chaos, with Virgin Trains advising customers that "some services" would be affected this morning due to disruption.
The outage was the largest in the country for more than 15 years, with more than 2,000 separate faults across the network.
At its peak, the outage affected more than a quarter of a million customers.
Energy Networks Association say around 56,000 people in the UK remain without power despite 385,000 people being reconnected following storm damage.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said more than 2,000 military personnel were on "high-readiness" to respond to requests in flood-affected areas.
Major General Patrick Sanders, assistant chief of the defence staff, said troops were providing help with resilience, relief and additional manpower for what he described as an "almost unparalleled" natural crisis.
"There's more that we can do and we want to do more wherever we can make a difference, so please use us, that's what we're here for," he said.
Meanwhile, Greater Manchester Police said its officers took more than 1,700 calls in seven hours yesterday as severe weather hit the region.
:: 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 Nation Special tonight at 8pm on Sky 1 (Sky channel 106).
:: Email your photos and videos of the floods to firstname.lastname@example.org.