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Leaders: Somerset flooding | Clutha

Environment secretary Owen Paterson, centre, visiting Northmoor Pumping Station in Somerset last month. Picture: PA

Environment secretary Owen Paterson, centre, visiting Northmoor Pumping Station in Somerset last month. Picture: PA

MORE torrents of rain have swamped southern England, adding many thousands more people to the already dreadfully long list of those whose homes have been flooded.

The distress it causes, especially to the elderly, and the months of work afterwards involved in replacing carpets and furnishings, not to mention the cost, is soul-destroying.

In insurance terms, events like these used to be regarded as acts of God against which there was no defence. These days, they seem to be more viewed as acts, not so much of government, but of non-government. David Cameron and his ministers can therefore expect to come under harsh scrutiny.

Recrimination seems justified. This is a major civil emergency. The displacement of people, the disruption to transport, the interruption of power supplies, the threat of disease from over-flowing sewers, mean that these floods are not just a serious inconvenience, but a significant life-threatening incident which is also causing widespread economic damage.

Yet the impression is that Mr Cameron’s government and agencies were slow to realise this. They were sluggish in response to the first flooding in the Somerset Levels and seemed ill-prepared when the floodwaters moved east to the Thames Valley. Only now does it look fully up to speed with the Cabinet emergency committee meeting twice a day.

The second criticism is that despite ministers’ fine words about the risks of more extreme weather events being caused by climate change, their actions speak of a government more prepared to take the risk they won’t happen, rather than one working to mitigate them.

It is also not as though they were ill-informed about the kind of preventative action that was needed. The Pitt Review after the 2007 floods set out what needed to be done, from the micro level of using floodboards rather than sandbags to protect individual houses, to the need to increase spending on defences to protect towns and villages.

But it seems that capital spending on flood defences in the 2011-15 period will be lower in real terms than the amount spent in the previous four years, even when spending by local councils is included. It was an austerity measure, of course, but now it looks like a misery measure.

Plenty of action will follow this deluge, to be sure. But to many it will look like closing the flood gates after the water has poured in. Whether Mr Cameron and his ministers end up as damaged by this as the devastated towns and villages remains to be seen, but he surely will not emerged unscathed.

Meantime, Alex Salmond should watch and learn. The jetstream which has been bringing these storms may soon move north carrying the deluges with it. The Scottish Government, its agencies and the emergency services should be prepared and ready to act.

Cause of Clutha worth waiting for

An ANSWER to the mystery of why a Strathclyde Police helicopter fell out of the night sky and into the Clutha Bar beside the Clyde, killing the three people on board and seven in the pub, has now begun to emerge.

Its engines simply stopped in mid-air. Quite why this happened is not clear. The aircraft had plenty of fuel on board so it seems that something occurred which either blocked the fuel line or severed it.

This doesn’t seem to take things forward much, but it does posthumously absolve the pilot of blame. His colleagues and relatives, who otherwise might have had to carry the knowledge of pilot responsibility with them, will be grateful. It is an unnerving fact about helicopters, but if both engines suddenly stop mid-air, although they can autorotate they do not glide and there is little a pilot can do to avert disaster.

The Air Accident Investigation Branch is now concentrating on trying to find out why the fuel supply failed.

The cause is not obvious and it may take many months of examining the wreckage and trying to simulate what occurred on a similar helicopter before the full answer is revealed. This process is important. It is a fact of life, particularly in aviation, that while aeronautical designers and engineers may know all there is to know about what makes for a safe and well-performing aircraft, flight stresses can cause unexpected faults to appear months, sometimes years, after they have been in operation.

Knowing whether such an unsuspected design fault, rather than a happenstance mishap such as a piece of grit which found its way into the fuel tank, was the cause can help prevent such disasters in the future.

 

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