(From top) Waves break over Porthcawl harbour in south Wales, soldiers evacuate residents from a flooded road in Egham, floodwaters surround a property in the village of Wraysbury and a woman struggles to control her umbrella from high winds in central London. (AFP, Reuters)
London, Feb. 13 (Agencies): One man was killed and thousands left without power as storms and high winds battered Britain, bringing more misery to already flooded areas and causing widespread travel chaos today.
Gusts of more than 160kmph lashed western England and Wales overnight, Britain’s Met Office said, while severe flood warnings remained in place for much of the south and west of Britain.
A man in his 70s died in a suspected electrocution after a tree brought down cables in Wiltshire, police said. The Energy Networks Association, which represents energy companies, reported that some 80,000 customers were still without power.
Parts of southwest England have been under water for weeks after heavy rain in February followed the wettest January in nearly 250 years. More recently, areas around the Thames river to the west of London, along an important economic corridor, have been inundated.
The government, which has been criticised for reacting too slowly to the floods, has promised to spend whatever is needed on the relief effort.
But Opposition Labour party members of parliament today accused the government of rehashing old announcements on funding to repair and reinforce transport infrastructure and presenting them as new money.
Transport minister Patrick McLoughlin said the question of applying for cash from the EU Solidarity Fund had been discussed at yesterday’s meeting of the government emergency committee.
“The minister for the cabinet office is actually looking at all the avenues that are available to us to collect any money that we may be able to,” he said in parliament.
During a radio phone-in, deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg reiterated the government’s view that it does not need to divert money from the foreign aid budget to help flood-hit communities, after more than 170,000 people signed a petition being run by the Daily Mail newspaper urging it to do so.
Economic analysts at PwC and Deloitte say insurers could face a bill of around $830 million for the flood damage, with more than 5,600 homes affected since early December.
Emergency services said they had rescued more than 850 people from their homes along the Thames in Surrey, with the river in some places at its highest level for more than 60 years.
The severe weather, which the army officer leading the flood recovery efforts described as “an almost unparalleled natural crisis” for Britain, has led to major travel disruption.
Motorways and bridges have been closed, and many rail services cancelled.
Meteorologist Charlie Powell said conditions were expected to improve, but more “wet and breezy” weather was expected at the weekend.
“I don’t think it's going to cause as much impact as we have seen,” he said.
The terrible storms caused chaos on the rail network as hundreds of passengers were left stranded for hours without heating and lighting following a power outage.
Commuters face another day of disruption with some trainlines warning of reduced services and delays, while others have urged passengers not to travel at all.
A new cabinet committee on flood recovery will meet today, replacing a scheduled meeting of the full cabinet.
Greater Manchester Police took more than 1,700 calls in just seven hours yesterday from 3pm. High winds blew the roof off a house and landed on a parked car and a block of flats was damaged in Oxfordshire as fire fighters fought to keep people safe. Engineers were forced to work through the night to try and combat the devastation caused by the storms. However, 80,000 homes are still without power.
Tim Field, for Energy Networks Association, which represents energy companies in the UK, said: “We continue working throughout today to get as many of those people back on supply as quickly and as safely as possible.
“We have seen some pretty horrendous conditions. Wales has suffered very strong winds of over 161kmph, gusts in excess of 129kmph and 145kmph quite frequently on land, and that has caused a lot of damage across the network across Wales so that is where we are seeing the majority of those people off supply at the moment.”
It is not just humans who are suffering from the extreme weather, as hundreds of dead puffins and other seabirds have been found washed up on storm-lashed beaches round the coast and it’s feared entire colonies have been wiped out in a marine wildlife disaster.
Rivers across the country are at record levels. The Thames has reached its highest recorded level in more than 60 years in some places.
Residents in Windsor, Maidenhead and communities in Surrey — where nearly 1,000 people have been evacuated — have been warned to expect severe disruption and risk of flooding.
Police have served anti-social behaviour notices on “flood sightseers” after it emerged that drivers hoping to get a glimpse of deluged communities were causing additional damage to flood-hit homes by creating waves of water.
The Severn river in Worcester reached its highest ever level early this morning, with the height of the swollen river measured at 5.67m in the Barbourne area of the city at 5am. To put this in context, the typical range for the height of the Severn at Barbourne is normally between 0.55m and 3.35m , according to the Environment Agency.
Commuters had a long trip to work this morning after the floodwater closed the main bridge linking the east and west of Worcester.
Elsewhere, travellers faced delays and cancellations on the rail network.
Last night, winds were so severe Virgin trains urged all customers to “abandon travel”, while travellers already on trains were let off at the nearest station.
Passengers travelling on the London Kings Cross to Edinburgh line spent five hours stranded in North Yorkshire, wrapped in foil blankets after emergency power lasted for just 30 minutes.