UK & World News

  • 7 February 2014, 15:41

Lord Smith Gives No Apology Over Flood Chaos

Lord Smith has said he is "very proud" of the Environment Agency's work and will not step down despite days of criticism over the response to the floods.

His first visit to Somerset comes after Royal Marines were drafted in to get people in Moorlands to safety after flood defences broke on Thursday night.

Confronted by a crowd of reporters, Lord Smith said: "I have no intention of resigning. I'm very proud of the work of the Environment Agency and its staff in the face of the most extreme weather."

"Local people have made very clear the distress they've experienced and the difficulties they've been facing," he added.

Lord Smith repeatedly failed to apologise for the misery some are going through, but said his staff were "working their socks off".

He said an extra £130m pledged by the Government would make a significant difference and that dredging would begin as soon as flood waters recede.

However, Lord Smith said it was "not the whole answer".

Local MP Ian Liddell-Grainger called the Environment Agency boss a "coward" and said he had not been given any details of the visit.

"I will tell him what I bloody well think of him - he should go, he should walk," said the Conservative MP.

"I'm livid. This little git has never even been on the telephone to me. When I find out where he is, I will give it to him."

Battered Britain: Live Weather Updates

Other areas in the Levels, including North Moor, Fordgate and Salt Moor, were also advised to evacuate overnight as flood waters rose by up to a metre.

Some Moorlands residents have told Sky News they are angry at the Government, saying they are too slow to help their "own country".

Others have accused the police of "scaring" people by using a helicopter and tannoy to urge residents to evacuate.

Jan MacEacharn said she was one of around 30 people staying put - despite official warnings.

"I'm not moving out," she said. "I have a horse, cats and a dog. I'm not prepared to go and leave it for other people to come in looting."

Ms MacEacharn said the government needed to do much more: "Send aid to your own country - get the jobs done in your own country first ... The Parrett (river) should have been dredged a long, long time ago."

Another resident, Amante Witherick, told Sky News there "was absolutely no need" for tannoy warnings from the police helicopter, which she said could alarm elderly people.

She said: "It was something like 'evacuate now, evacuate now, get out now'.

"I was scared and I'm not their age ... They probably thought there were things this helicopter could see that they couldn't.

"It's not a tsunami - I thought that was a little bit over the top."

Members of 40 Commando Royal Marines are still helping with the relief effort in Moorland.

Captain Tristan Stewart told Sky's Alex Rossi the military had been able to help with flood defences, including sandbags.

"The key thing for us is being able to give back to a community," he said.

"The Somerset community, and the local area, has helped us out so much during many of our deployments out to Afghanistan and overseas."

The Marines have been using two Pinzgauer military trucks to help evacuate 140 properties, the Ministry of Defence said.

Some 5,000 properties have been affected by flooding across Britain.

Two severe flood warnings remain in place today for the South West. The first is for Salt Moor and North Moor, including Moorland.

The second flood warning is in place for the A361 between East Lyng and Burrowbridge.

Across the country, around 400 flood warnings and alerts have been issued by the Environment Agency.

More rain is due across Britain today but the Met Office predicts it should clear later.

Prime Minister David Cameron has said he will also visit Somerset "when the time is right" and insisted his top priority was coordinating the Government's response.

He said: "When it's right for me to visit I'll be there, don't worry.

"I think it's absolutely vital. We've had ministerial visits in the past and there'll be more to come but the most important thing right now is to coordinate all the effort for people in Somerset."

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said today that he wanted to "hear answers" from the Environment Agency.

Speaking on his radio phone-in show on LBC, Mr Clegg said: "The Environment Agency have a very difficult job but also has to learn lessons from what has happened.

"I don't think the measure should be has x or y politician been down there, I think it should be whether the flood defences are working. They are clearly not.

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