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February 10, 2014

British Flood Crisis Swells on River Thames

by VOA News

Waterlogged British towns on the River Thames prepared Monday for days of new flooding, with officials issuing 14 more warnings as the fabled river burst its banks about 30 kilometers upstream of London.

The new alerts were issued as Prime Minister David Cameron toured parts of the devastated region for a second time in three days. Forecasters say new rains this week are expected to put thousands more homes at risk, with water levels surpassing record flooding in 2003 in much of the region.

Storms and tidal surges have battered Britain since December, inundating entire communities, destroying roads and infrastructure, and cutting rail connections between the southwestern city of Plymouth and the rest of England. Forecasters are calling the British winter the wettest in nearly 250 years.

Television footage Monday showed British troops and civilians piling sandbags to protect real estate in the village of Datchet, before the river breached its banks and left much of the community submerged.

There are no flood alerts in London itself, where river banks are protected by a series of giant metal gates known as the Thames Barrier. The gates can be closed against tidal surges, creating more space for excess water to pool upriver.

The flooding has sparked a political firestorm, with locals accusing Cameron's government of failing to dredge rivers and implement other flood prevention measures. The prime minister told reporters Monday his only interest is ensuring maximum government efforts to curb the impact of the disaster.

On Sunday, Communities Minister Eric Pickles acknowledged that the government made a "mistake" in not dredging area rivers. But he said the decision was based on the advice of the Environment Agency, a government body.

Pickles, a member of Prime Minister Cameron's Conservative Party, apologized for taking the advice, telling the BBC "we made a mistake."