|A police officer looks at a fallen tree across a street in Egham, west of London, Saturday after high winds brought by a winter storm battered southern England. (AFP-Yonhap)|
LONDON (AFP) ― Sodden communities along the River Thames braced for more floods on Sunday, as Britain counted the cost of a storm that claimed several lives and left tens of thousands of homes without power.
At least three people were killed in separate incidents in Ireland, Britain and the English Channel after violent winds and heavy rain swept in from the Atlantic on Friday.
Pulling down power lines and disrupting transport networks across the region, the storm brought fresh misery to flood-hit communities in Britain, parts of which are suffering their wettest start to the year for 250 years.
Prime Minister David Cameron warned on Saturday that the worst was not yet over as he visited the Thames-side village of Chertsey, west of London, to see how the military were helping bolster flood defenses.
“What we do in the next 24 hours is vital because tragically the river levels will rise again. So every sand bag delivered, every house helped, every flood barrier put in place can make a big difference,” Cameron said.
More than 3,000 members of the military are involved in the flood relief effort, according to the Defense Ministry, as the government seeks to counter criticism that it was too slow to respond to the crisis.
Fourteen severe flood alerts warning of a risk to life were in place along the River Thames on Saturday night, with another two issued for the southwest of England, which has borne the brunt of two months of heavy rain.
In a newspaper interview published on Sunday, opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband blamed climate change for the run of bad weather and urged government ministers to treat global warming as a “national security issue”.
Cameron said last month that “I very much suspect” there is a link but said that either way, there should be more investment in flood defenses.
Friday‘s violent storm pulled up trees, sent roofs flying off buildings, slammed waves into the coast and opened up a 6 meter sinkhole in a quiet street in Hemel Hempstead, north of London.
A 49-year-old taxi driver with three children was killed when a building collapsed onto her parked car in the centre of London, and her two passengers were injured, police said.
Out on the English Channel, an 85-year-old man died after high winds sent a “freak wave” smashing through a window of a cruise ship off the coast of northwest France, the ship’s operator said.
Some 70,000 French homes were left without power as meteorologists registered winds of up to 150 kilometers per hour, though most of these had been reconnected by Saturday night.
Meanwhile in Ireland, a 65-year-old man working for telecoms firm Eircom was killed in Cork on Saturday when he was trying to erect a fallen telephone pole which fell on his head, the RTE state broadcaster said.
“Tragically these weather events have been hitting community and after community and doing that week after week,” a wind-swept Cameron said in Chertsey.
“It has been very, very tough for people and my heart goes out to anyone whose been flooded and we‘ll do everything we can to help people get back on their feet.”
The prime minister has promised that money is “no object” in helping flood-hit communities, although Bank of England governor Mark Carney has warned the bad weather is likely to affect Britain’s fragile recovery from recession.