U.K. facing flood crisis, as prime minister warns victims they are in for “long haul”

Hundreds of military personnel have been mobilized to help in the worst-affected areas of south west England and the Home Counties, as the government continues to fight not only the weather, but also the perception of lack of action.

The Telegraph notes that about 400 weather warnings remain in place across England, with forecasters predicting further heavy rainfall on already-saturated ground.

What heightened the anger at the government was the fact that in addition to lack of preparation and response – thus, there were many complaints that sandbags intended for the worst-hit areas being “hijacked” and unavailable to stem the rising water – homeowners complained that government agencies have not provided enough security after resident were ordered to evacuate, leading to looting of vacant homes.

As rains continue and rivers overrun their banks, politicians continue their fact-finding tours of deluged communities, declaring that the authorities are doing “everything possible” to repair damage and prevent further destruction.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles told MPs that in addition to the River Thames, there was a high risk that the River Severn and River Wye would also break their banks, further stretching resources.

The Met Office’s Sarah Davies told a news briefing that strong winds forecast for the middle of the week could add to the problems facing the country, with snow reported today (Tuesday) in pockets of the Midlands.

The weather service says some 20-40 mm (0.75-1.5 inches) of rain is expected by Friday night across many southern and western areas. Some regions, including the already inundated south west of England, South Wales, western Scotland, and Northern Ireland, could have up to 70 mm (2.75 inches).

Davies warned that a storm expected Wednesday would likely fell trees and cause transport and power disruption, with winds in the South West potentially reaching 80 mph.

Cameron spent Tuesday morning in the Devon resort of Dawlish, where the floods destroyed the railway track, cutting off the rail link between Cornwall and the rest of the country.

He said it was “going to take time before we get things back to normal” but ministers would do everything possible.

It is a huge challenge and we have had the wettest start to a year for 250 years, some of the most extreme weather we have seen in our country in decades,” he said.

Philip Hammond, after being criticized by residents in the Berkshire community of Wraysbury, told the BBC that the “Government has got a grip on this” but authorities cannot “prevent the course of nature.”

We are dealing with an enormous force of nature here, vast quantities of water, an unprecedented weather pattern, and, while the authorities can and must do everything that is possible, there are some things I’m afraid that we just can’t do,” he said. “We cannot always intervene to prevent the course of nature.”

Hammond, who represents the constituency of Runnymede and Weybridge which has been affected by the flooding, told BBC: “Of course the Environment Agency — obviously under enormous pressure — is doing everything it can to manage this situation.

Of course there will be longer-term questions about policy on the way flooding defenses are managed, on, for example, the policy of river dredging, and the time to discuss them is when the waters have gone down, when we’ve gone back to normal.”

Officials have predicted hundreds, if not thousands, more homes will be flooded over the coming days and said restoring the country’s damaged rail network could take months.

Pickles chaired the latest meeting of the government’s COBRA emergency committee yesterday as the prime minister visited south west England.

He warned: “Sadly, the worst of the bad weather is not over. But we are working tirelessly to deal with the situation on the ground and to prepare and protect vulnerable areas.”