MORE than 2,000 troops were aiding the flood relief effort in southern parts of Britain last night as the country prepared for a triple threat of elements over the weekend, with warnings in place for more heavy rainfall, gale-force winds and snow.
Forecasters have warned that the appalling conditions which have ravaged communities show no signs of abating, with heavy rain expected in already saturated parts of the country.
The Met Office warned that wind, rain and snow was expected to strike in a “multi-pronged attack” with up to 40mm of rain set to fall in just six hours, while gusts of up to 80mph blast through parts of the country.
The Environment Agency (EA) has issued 23 severe flood warnings – which means a risk to life – covering parts of Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Berkshire and Surrey.
There are also 400 less serious flood warnings and alerts, mostly in southern England and the Midlands. More than 1,000 homes have been evacuated in the Thames valley and the West Country, and others have been left without electricity.
The rain expected to fall over the next 24 hours will exacerbate flooding in areas with swollen rivers, while some coastal areas could be at risk as blustery conditions bring large waves.
With river levels continuing to rise, the EA has made 30,000 sandbags available to properties near the Thames in Berkshire and Surrey.
Peter Willison, of the EA, told a Whitehall briefing yesterday: “We are likely to see more severe flood warnings along the south coast, representing the risk from very strong and big waves. The rainfall that we will see will bring river levels back up on the Thames and we expect levels on slow-responding rivers like the Thames, like the Severn, to stay high for days to come.”
About 17,000 households in Wales last night were still without power after high winds battered parts of the country in the “Wild Wednesday” storm.
At its height, hundreds of thousands of homes were left without power after gusts of up to 108mph battered parts of the country, leaving one man dead and hundreds stranded as transport networks were hit.
The Energy Networks Association said yesterday that electricity had now been restored to almost 530,000 properties, but 17,000 in mid and north Wales remained cut off.
It added that ongoing flooding could continue to affect homes, businesses and land for at least another week.
As well is issuing 23 severe flood warnings, the EA said Windsor, Maidenhead, parts of Surrey and communities in Buckinghamshire, West Berkshire and Reading were at risk from the Thames, which has seen levels rise to 60-year highs.
Charles Powell, meteorolo-gist with the Met Office, said: “It’s going to be bad, no question about it .”
Meanwhile, large parts of Cors Fochno wetland nature reserve in the west of Wales caught on fire following the reported collapse of high voltage power lines. The fires, which stretched in a line some 250 metres wide, burned just 200 metres from houses, caravans and a church.
Yesterday, police told how Bob Thomas, 77, died in hospital after being hit by a falling tree on Wednesday in his garden in Caernarfon, Wales.
Major General Patrick Sanders, assistant chief of the defence staff (operations), said 2,200 forces personnel had been taking part in the flood relief operation, with a further 3,000 on stand-by.
Visiting Blackpool yesterday to view relief efforts, Prime Minister David Cameron said: “People need to be reassured that we will do whatever it takes to help people during this very difficult time.”
Controversial redundancies on hold while agency is in ‘incident mode’
PLANS for hundreds of redundancies at the Environment Agency have been put on hold because of the floods crisis sweeping the country.
The agency’s chief executive has sent an e-mail to staff saying that response to the flooding is taking priority over other work.
Paul Leinster said: “We are quite rightly prioritising incident response above all other work. With this in mind, we are reviewing the timetable for the change programme.
“We will not be taking further decisions on workstream proposals or structures whilst we remain in incident mode.
“This means we will not be seeking any further engagement with staff on ways of working during this period and will not be entering into any formal consultation arrangements.
“We will continue to work closely with the trade unions and are committed to their on-going involvement.
“Once we move out of incident response mode, we will re-focus our efforts to continue implementing a successful change programme. We want everyone’s voices to be heard as we develop ways of working, free from the pressures of incident response.”
Unions have warned that 1,700 jobs are at risk at the agency, with 550 under immediate threat before the floods started.
However, yesterday, Unison union general secretary Dave Prentis said: “This announcement is no stay of execution for any Environment Agency worker threatened with redundancy.
“It is simply an acknowledgement that there are so many workers needed to manage the floods crisis that it is impossible to carry out a consultation. This in itself should be a wake-up call to the government that further staff cuts are a nonsense.
“It will come as no consolation to the thousands of Environment Agency workers who have been working day and night for the past two months to save lives and protect property,” he said.
“While it is obvious that dealing with the floods should be the number one priority, it is a disgrace that, once the waters
recede, many of these hard-working, highly-skilled workers will become dispensable once more.”