Crisis forces Ed Miliband to postpone visit to India

With the Met Office issuing its first “red warning” of the winter, cautioning of gales of up to 100 mph that are expected to pound Wales and north-west England, the UK government is pulling out all stops in rescue and flood-prevention efforts.

The red alert implies that there is likely to be widespread damage and “risk to life” if people living in the affected regions do not “avoid dangerous areas.”

Addressing the crisis after a two-day visit to flood-affected areas in the Somerset Levels and other regions in the south and south-west, Prime Minister David Cameron called for the country to “unite in a great national effort.”

“Money is no object in this relief effort. Whatever money is needed for, it will be spent,” Mr. Cameron said at a press conference on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Labour party leader Ed Miliband has postponed his trip scheduled for next week to India owing to the flood emergency. This was billed as his first major visit to a foreign country in recent years.

The weather forecast remains grim with predictions of more potentially destructive Atlantic storms heading towards the island nation. The Met office on Wednesday issued 14 severe flood warnings, 60 flood warnings and 115 flood alerts.

Martin Young, Met Office Chief Meteorologist, said: “The winds through Wednesday could see trees brought down, which could cause disruption to transport and power networks. Gusts will be strongest in western and northern parts of England and Wales during the afternoon and evening.”

The new turn in the crisis is the extensive flooding along the Thames watershed. The Thames, the second longest river in the UK, is around 350 kms: the torrential rains have caused flooding of habitations along its route. The damage wrought by the rising waters of the Thames has been captured by the BBC in a dramatic video taken from a helicopter that flew the river’s course.

The UK’s Environmental Agency has warned of the damaging consequences of further rises in the level of the Thames. The river starts in Gloucestorshire and flows into the North Sea at Woolwich, east of London. The Thames Barrier, constructed in 1982, prevents tidal surges from flooding the capital and its surroundings. The barrier is currently being used at record levels to prevent sea water from pushing back into the Thames and cause flooding. It has closed 28 times since December 6 last year, a media report has noted, quoting one of the controllers at the barrier.

The number of people who have been evacuated from their homes has now reached 1000, and environmentalists have warned that it may take till May for flood waters to completely subside.

The last few weeks has seen considerable political wrangling in parliament and outside on flood preparedness and relief measures. Government ministers have been bruising in their criticism of the Environmental Agency, in particular its Chairman, Chris Smith, for not doing enough to anticipate and prevent the floods. In the face of the ever- growing human crisis, Mr. Cameron has drawn in those of his ministers who have been particularly disparaging of the EU, and unlike them has been all praise for the organization and the exemplary work that its personnel are doing on the ground.

Keywords: UK floods

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