Forecasters predicting more floods

Herald Series: Stranded residents onboard a rescue boat as they are transported from the village of Muchelney in Somerset, after it was cut off by flooding Stranded residents onboard a rescue boat as they are transported from the village of Muchelney in Somerset, after it was cut off by flooding

Parts of England are facing new flood misery this weekend, as high tides and strong winds are set to put coastal areas at risk.

Gales and big waves could swamp coastal flood defences and sea walls, flood properties and cause travel disruption, the Environment Agency has warned.

Another band of heavy rain could also cause more flooding as it falls on already saturated ground, and the Environment Agency currently has 35 flood warnings in place across the country.

The latest poor weather conditions come at the end of a month which has already become the wettest January on record for parts of southern England.

In the Somerset Levels, the situation is so bad the Army has been deployed to bring relief to villages cut off by the most significant floods for 20 years. Some 40 properties have flooded on the Levels, the Environment Agency said.

And the west of England is facing further of risk of flooding, as wind and rain sweeps in and combine with high tides this weekend.

Coastal and tidal areas of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Bristol and South Gloucestershire are all at an increased risk of flooding, the Environment Agency said.

The rest of Gloucestershire, parts of south east England, the north west and Yorkshire and Hull coast will also be affected by the wind, rain and high tides in the next few days.

The risk of river flooding continues with the ground already saturated, and flood barriers have been put up at Frankwell in Shrewsbury to protect against a rise in river levels on the Severn after 5cm (2 inches) of rain fell in Shropshire on Tuesday.

Temporary defences are also set to be erected at Bewdley on the Severn.

The Met Office is warning of a band of heavy rain sweeping the country tomorrow, with 20mm to 30mm (0.8 to 1.2 inches) set to fall across many parts and as much as 40mm (1.6 inches) on high ground.

Over the weekend, winds of up to 50mph to 60mph are set to hit the country, which combined with spring tides could see western coastal areas battered by large waves.

It comes at the end of an unusually wet January for the UK. A spokesman for the Met Office said: "For the UK as a whole, 164.6mm (6.5 inches) of rain has fallen so far this month, 35% above the long-term average, with all nations having above average rainfall."

South-east and central southern England received more than twice its average rainfall, with a record 175.2mm (6.9 inches) falling between January 1 and 28.

The rainfall across south-west England and South Wales reached 222.6mm (8.8 inches) in the same period, making January 2014 the fifth wettest in the records dating back to 1910.

The weather has left some areas badly hit by flooding, with 65 square kilometres of the Somerset Levels swamped.

The Army has been drafted in to help villages cut off by the floods and sp ecialist vehicles are being brought in so troops can deliver food to stricken villagers, transport people and deliver sandbags.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, who met with an angry response when he visited Somerset earlier this week, made the announcement about Army intervention after Prime Minister David Cameron pledged rapid action to deal with the crisis.

Mr Cameron promised that dredging of rivers would start as soon as water is reduced to a safe level.

Environment Agency (EA) teams have been running dozens of pumps 24 hours a day to drain an estimated 1.5 million tonnes of water - equivalent to 600 Olympic-sized swimming pools - off the Levels.

The EA has come under fire from MPs and local councils over the situation in the Somerset Levels, where concerns have been raise over underinvestment in flood defence work and calls for urgent dredging of rivers to prevent more damage.

But the agency insists that increased dredging of the rivers would not have prevented the recent flooding and was "often not the best long-term or economic solution".

Flooding experts have also warned that dredging would not have helped the situation, suggesting that doubling the capacity of every drainage channel in Somerset would have still seen large parts flood as a result of the amount of rain.

In Muchelney, which is one of the villages cut off on the Somerset Levels, residents have been trying to carry on with their lives as normally as possible, despite being cut off since Christmas.

Local resident Nigel Smith was making use of a taxi boat operated by the fire brigade, and said the level of response was now "terrific".

Mr Smith described the issue of dredging the Somerset Levels as "complicated" but said if it reduced the water levels by only a couple of inches, it was worth it.

"It's a complicated subject and I think a lot of it to do with the dredging and sending the Army in is largely a political statement to satisfy people's justifiable complaints," he said.

"The dredging will help a little bit but that's all we need - a little bit."

He added: "Dredging would lower the flooding by an inch or two and that's all we really need to save those people in the village that have flooded."

In Wales, officials at Aberystwyth University are evacuating students living at halls of residence along the seafront from tomorrow until 4pm on Monday as a precautionary measure. Teaching tomorrow and on Monday has been cancelled.

The email said alternative accommodation would be provided for students and gave a 24-hour emergency telephone number for students.

Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Guy Shrubsole said: "We know our weather is set to get wilder and more extreme as climate change bites.

"Despite the mounting evidence of climate change, the Government has allowed a half-billion-pound hole to open up in our flood defences over the past four years, leaving tens of thousands of homes vulnerable.

"No more excuses: the Prime Minister needs to properly prepare the country for climate change, not just promise last-minute quick-fixes."

In a press conference Pat Flaherty, deputy chief executive of Somerset County Council, said: "Following the national Cobra meeting last night, the military have come in at short notice.

"They have been working with our teams to assess and plan for what is required and the fire service has met that need through its national specialist vehicles and trained staff.

"However, with potential for high winds and high tides and more rain passing through and falling on an already soaked catchment we have potential for further flooding over the weekend and with that ongoing flooding for a number of weeks to come.

"With that in mind we're still working very closely with the military who remain in Somerset, planning with us and we also have the resilience of knowing that their equipment and personnel are ready to be mobilised should we require them."

The multi-agency response to the floods in Somerset has been able to call on UK-wide resources to assist the relief effort, including the military.

Mr Flaherty said the armed forces had been providing advice and support as part of the multi-agency group that is overseeing the operation and had visited flood-stricken communities today.

But it had been decided that the current needs are being met by the fire service which is supplying 10 additional pumps, Unimog vehicles and hovercraft, and the military remains on stand-by in case further support is needed if the flooding situation worsens.

"The military have come in at short notice, worked with our teams to assess what's needed and what's required and the fire service has met that need through its national specialist vehicles and trained staff," said Mr Flaherty.

"With potential flooding coming up over the weekend and flooding ongoing for weeks ahead, we now have any military help and support very much on call.

"The military have been involved in this incident for a period of time through the co-ordination group that we have.

"They have been there, they have been advising and they have been observing.

"The opportunity that Cobra presented to highlight the ongoing situation was welcome and we are delighted that military support has been offered to support our resilience going forward in the long term and we are delighted it is still there."

Chief Superintendent Caroline Peters, of Avon and Somerset Police, who is chairman of the strategic co-ordination group, said the military could be called on to help with worsening weather predicted for the weekend but she was confident the civil authorities could manage.

"What we have been grateful for with the military coming in is that we have the weekend coming up with a high spring tide and we know that the weather front is potentially severe with additional rainfall," she said.

"Even though we don't think that the levels will increase markedly, the military have been able to come in, with the support of the fire service in particular, and put in place contingency plans so that we are able to respond.

"What the military can bring is a very quick response with additional resources should we require them.

"At this stage though, we are very comfortable with the civil contingencies that we have in place and the resources we have, we can manage this."

The Devon and Somerset Fire Service now has 10 high-volume pumps on stand-by in a "strategic holding area" near the M5 motorway at Taunton.

"We've also had access to two hovercraft and are coming down if they are required," said Trevor Stratford, of the Devon and Somerset Fire Service.

"We also have use of the Unimob vehicles, which are a high-axle 4x4 vehicle to ensure we have a 24/7 capability to reach each of the communities within the Somerset Levels."

Mr Stratford said the fire service had also visited more than local 200 properties to check on the occupants.

"The military are part of the multi-agency planning process and they are still here," Mr Stratford said.

"If there is an escalation of poor weather conditions on the Somerset Levels as a result of the new weather fronts coming through this weekend, clearly we may be in a position where we may need their support.

"As such they are on stand-by and are available for use.

"So depending on the need and depending on the number of vehicles that might be required, we make those judgments on a day-by-day basis."

Mr Flaherty was asked about the county council's reaction to Environment Secretary Owen Paterson's visit on Monday in which no immediate measures to tackle the flooding long term were announced.

"Our concern was very much that if nothing happened and nothing was specifically announced on that day then we could run the risk of running into a third year of flooding next year," he said.

"Two years is unacceptable and if you're cut off and your house is full of water, it would be desperate, really.

"So, although we were concerned on the day that nothing had been announced, we are absolutely delighted now that dredging has been announced in the House of Commons and that the Environment Secretary is welcoming a plan with a suite of measures that will overcome the issue in the long term.

"We have certainly pledged to work with Defra, the Environment Agency and all of our colleagues, to make sure that plan is as comprehensive and successful as possible."

Mr Flaherty added: "We are comfortable with the level of support going into residents and, with the backing of the Government, which has been announced, we can tackle the issue of the rivers to make sure this doesn't happen again."

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