Cameron: Floods are a 'tragedy'

Members of the Surrey Fire and Rescue Service work at a flood-hit housing estate in Staines-upon-Thames

Park furniture sits under flood water in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire

The scene in Kingsway, opposite Holborn Tube station in London, after minicab driver Julie Sillitoe was killed when masonry fell from the building

People walk on the flooded Somerset Levels as the stormy weather finally gives the country a respite

First published in National News © by

David Cameron has described the flooding that has hit parts of the country as a "tragedy" and said that despite some respite today, people should be braced for more rain next week.

The Prime Minister chaired another meeting of the Government's Cobra emergency committee this evening as the huge clean-up operation was getting underway.

But many areas of flood-hit Britain must prepare for water levels to rise once again as further rain is forecast over the coming days, bringing further misery to residents whose homes have already been flooded.

Earlier, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond defended the Government's handling of the crisis but admitted the military could have been brought in earlier to help deal with the winter storms that have been wracking the country and claimed a number of lives.

He said Royal Engineers were now being tasked to carry out a high-speed assessment of "serious" damage to the UK's flood defence infrastructure but conceded that in future the Government would involve the military earlier in the process and be more "aggressive" in urging local authorities to use troops.

Swathes of the UK remain on high alert as people battle to protect their homes and communities from the floodwaters, which are still expected to rise in places despite today's calmer conditions.

The Environment Agency (EA) said 16 severe flood warnings remain in place for the South West and the Thames Valley, with almost 130 flood warnings and more than 180 flood alerts.

Two people died on Friday - James Swinstead, 85, an elderly passenger on a cruise ship in the English Channel, and minicab driver Julie Sillitoe, 49, whose car was hit by falling masonry in central London.

A 20-year-old pregnant woman and her unborn baby, from Tredegar, South Wales, also died in a crash on the A465 between Brynmawr and Garnlydan.

Firefighter Clifford Cox, 53, died of an apparent heart attack while on duty in a flood-hit area last night, but it is unclear whether there was any link to the storms.

Mr Cameron said tonight: "I am hopeful that the work to strengthen long-term flood defences, and the emergency measures which have been put in place over recent days and weeks will mean that we can minimise the number of homes and businesses affected by the latest high water levels.

"The recent flooding has been a tragedy for all those affected and my thoughts are with them. While it is of no comfort to those individuals, over 1.3 million other homes have been protected since December and we will continue to invest in flood defence measures to protect even more.

"Extensive efforts to protect and repair properties and infrastructure are ongoing by many thousands of people among agencies, the military and the emergency services. I speak for us all when I thank them profusely for their hard work."

Mr Hammond said more than 3,000 troops were currently deployed to help and 5,000 more were available if needed.

A break in the weather today meant hundreds of tonnes of debris could be pulled from the River Severn in Worcester after being swept up in the huge flood swell.

A mechanical digger was brought in to recover the debris, which included 30ft trees, a garden shed and a wheelie bin from around the stonework footings of the city's main bridge.

In the stricken Somerset Levels, the clean-up process was hindered however after a number of high volume pumps brought over from the Netherlands had to be switched off as they were eroding the river bank.

And in Hampshire, members of the public were warned to stay away from unexploded shells that have been exposed during the storms.

Almost one million homes have been without power after downpours and high winds during the last week.

The severe storms have taken a major human toll in recent days.

Mother-of-three Mrs Sillitoe was killed close to Holborn Underground station after large chunks of masonry fell on to her silver Skoda Octavia on Friday night.

The minicab driver's passengers, a 25-year-old man and a 24-year-old woman, are being treated in hospital.

Mr Swinstead also died on Friday after the 22,000-tonne Marco Polo cruise ship was hit by a freak wave in the English Channel.

An injured woman in her 70s was also airlifted off the vessel, while 14 other people suffered minor injuries and were treated on board.

Emergency services and the Army rescued 32 people from the Marine Restaurant in Milford on Sea, Hampshire, at 10pm on Friday, evacuating them in an Army vehicle. Hampshire Police said there were no serious injuries.

A 20ft deep sinkhole also appeared yesterday morning under a quiet cul-de-sac in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire.

The people living in 17 homes close to the site in Oatridge Gardens were evacuated, as the hole, measuring approximately 35ft wide, was investigated.

Meanwhile, a poll by ComRes for the Independent on Sunday and Sunday Mirror found that just 59% of people thought the Government was "beginning to get a grip" on the flooding.

Some 48% said the storms had made them more convinced that climate change was happening, compared to 30% who said their views had not changed.

An Opinium poll for the Observer found 51% thought Mr Cameron had responded badly to the floods.

Some 51% of those questioned said they believed issues around climate change and global warming caused the floods while 24% did not take that view, and 20% were neutral.

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