The flood risk for London commuter towns, many of which are already inundated, will rise in the coming days as more rain and dangerous winds sweep Britain.
The River Thames is approaching peak levels west of London as more downpours prolong two months of flooding in the U.K. The Environment Agency, charged with managing defenses, said today that about 50 more homes were inundated overnight and the extent of the floods may rival the worst seen last century.
“The risk of flooding is likely to increase over the next few days,” the agency said in a statement. Towns downstream from Maidenhead, Berkshire, may see waters rise over the weekend and early next week to the “highest levels seen so far.”
Storms from the Atlantic have brought record rains and tidal surges to Britain since early December, flooding at least 5,800 properties and disrupting road and rail travel. Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday said money is “no object” in tackling the disaster as he canceled a trip to the Middle East.
The Met Office, the government forecaster, issued a red wind warning, the highest threat, indicating “exceptionally strong winds” for parts of Wales and northwest England today, including the coastal resort of Blackpool.
“Winds of this strength can cause widespread structural damage, bringing down trees and also leading to loss of power supplies,” the forecaster said, advising the public to alter travel arrangements. A gust of 108 miles (174 kilometers) an hour has been measured in north Wales, the Met Office said.
The Environment Agency has 14 severe flood warnings along the Thames and two in Somerset in southwest England. Earlier, it said the Thames’ waters were “starting to stabilize,” while reporting “widespread property flooding and disruption to local infrastructure” in towns including Chertsey, Old Windsor, Staines, Horton, Wraysbury and Datchet.
“This is not an incident that’s going to be over in the short term,” Toby Willison, a director at the Environment Agency, told reporters in London today. “This is an exceptional event: the highest rainfall in January since 1776 and we think it’s likely that December, January and February rainfall will be the highest for 250 years.”
In northwest England, the West Coast rail line will close around the Preston area at about 9 p.m. this evening, Network Rail Operations Director Robin Gisby said today at a briefing, citing high winds.
“It would be stupid to run trains on it with the sort of winds coming through,” Gisby told reporters. “We’ve had several trees down already.”
Western Power Distribution, which supplies electricity in southwest England, south Wales and the Midlands, said the weather is affecting supply for some customers.
The extent of the current floods is similar to that in 2003, and could reach levels last seen almost 70 years ago in coming days, the Environment Agency said.
A thaw of snow in 1947 caused rivers in England and Wales to burst their banks, including the Thames and its tributaries. The resulting floods may have affected about 100,000 properties, Risk Management Solutions Inc. said in a 2007 report. RMS estimated that a repeat of such river flows could cost as much as 4.5 billion pounds ($7.5 billion) in direct property damage.
The Association of British Insurers has estimated the costs of the current floods at 426 million pounds through Jan. 8, and says it won’t update that estimate until the waters have subsided. Deloitte LLP has signaled the storms could cost insurers 1 billion pounds by April.
Bank of England Governor Mark Carney told ITV News today that the floods “will affect the near-term outlook” for the U.K. economy, according to a post on Twitter by ITV News Economics Editor Richard Edgar. The interview will air at 6:30 p.m. London time.
The Met Office also issued a yellow warning for rain — the third-highest level — across Wales and the whole of central and southern England, while snow is expected farther north. As much as 4 centimeters (1.6 inches) of rain were forecast today in already saturated parts of southwest England.
Aside from the severe flood warnings, the Environment Agency has in place 137 flood warnings, indicating inundations are expected, and 258 alerts that flooding is possible.
About 1,600 members of the armed forces are helping with rescue efforts and logistics around the country, and thousands more are available, Cameron told reporters yesterday at his Downing Street office. He’s scheduled to chair a meeting of the government’s emergency committee, known as Cobra, later today.
Cameron in Parliament today defended his government’s response to the floods, and repeated his pledge that “money is no object” in the relief effort. He said decisions over spending on flood defenses will have to wait until after the waters have receded.
(With assistance from Brian Swint, Kitty Donaldson, Thomas Penny and Robert Hutton in London. Editors: Amanda Jordan, Randall Hackley)
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