U.K. Braces for Severe Flooding, Strong Winds From Storm

By Alex Morales | January 3, 2014

The U.K. girded for severe flooding in Wales and southwestern England because of heavy rain and a coastal surge brought on by winds gusting up to 80 miles (129 kilometers) per hour.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson led a meeting of the government’s Cobra emergency committee in London after the River Severn, the longest in the country, breached flood defenses in Gloucestershire. Ten severe flood warnings were in place in England and Wales at 4 p.m. local time, indicating danger to life, according to the Environment Agency website.

“With more rain and strong winds expected later today and into the weekend, I urge everyone to follow the advice from the Environment Agency and police,” Paterson said in an e-mailed statement. “We are in contact with the transport network, energy companies and other utilities providers making sure they have plans in place to deal with any disruption.”

Today’s wind, rain and flooding disrupted rail services by operators including Arriva Trains and CrossCountry in the west. The floods add to the winter misery for Britons after a storm that struck on Dec. 23 left more than a half-million homes without electricity and inundated swaths of southern England.

Thames Barrier

The Environment Agency said in a noon statement that it was closing the Thames Barrier, as it had yesterday, due to the high flow over the Teddington Weir combined with the spring tide in order to protect London from flooding.

Looe, Polperro and Mevagissey in Cornwall and Dartmouth and Lynmouth in Devon, all in southwest England, were flooded by a combination of a storm surge and high tides, the agency said. A total of 130 homes have flooded since yesterday even as the agency said defenses protected 130,000 properties.

Aside from the severe warnings, 118 warnings were in place in England and Wales indicating flooding is expected. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency issued 17 more, mainly in Tayside, to the north of Edinburgh. Earlier, Natural Resources Wales, another government agency, warned of the highest tides since 1997.

“We are expecting flooding along the west and south coasts of England and Wales due to a combination of strong winds, large waves and high tides from the early hours of Friday and into the weekend,” Pete Fox, head of strategy at the Environment Agency, said in a statement.

The U.K. Met Office placed Northern Ireland and most of the west coast of Great Britain under a “yellow” warning, the lowest of three grades, for either wind, rain, or both.

Flood Fears

Wet and windy conditions are likely across Northern Ireland, Scotland and western England and Wales, the Met Office said.

“This will push further bands of locally heavy rain across the U.K. and winds will gust to around 60 to 70 mph” by the sea and over hills and to 80 mph along parts of the Irish Sea coast, the organization said.

In Northern Ireland, the government warned of the potential for flooding in Belfast. Of the 10 severe flood warnings, three are in southwest England, three are in the Midlands and four are in Wales.

“This is expected to be the highest tide to hit the whole Welsh coast since 1997,” Natural Resources Wales said in a statement. “A further tidal surge and large waves predicted for Sunday and Monday could cause further problems.”

In Kent, southeast of London, a flood warning remained in place on the River Medway, where the village of Yalding was inundated before Christmas and where flooding is “ongoing,” according to the Environment Agency.

(Editors: Randall Hackley, Heather Langan)

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