Most of country to feel brunt of ‘worst weather’

The Duke of Cambridge carrying sandbags in Datchet, Berkshire, as he and his brother, Prince Harry joined colleagues from the armed forces in helping to defend the town from floods
The Duke of Cambridge carrying sandbags in Datchet, Berkshire, as he and his brother, Prince Harry joined colleagues from the armed forces in helping to defend the town from floods
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Royal support has been offered to flood hit communities as forecasters warn of a return to the worst of the winter weather today.

The Duke of Cambridge and his brother Prince Harry joined colleagues from the armed forces in helping with the supply of sandbags to defend the village of Datchet on the banks of the Thames in Berkshire yesterday.

And a Buckingham Palace spokesman confirmed that The Queen is contributing supplies of feed and bedding from the royal farms at Windsor to help beleaguered farmers on the Somerset Levels.

Last night, the Met Office was predicting that almost every pocket of the UK will experience downpours, gale-force winds or snow overnight and over the course of today - with much of it falling on already-saturated ground.

More than 1,000 homes have been evacuated in the Thames Valley and the West Country, and others have been left without electricity.

Whole streets are cut off as flood water rises to waist level in the worst-affected areas and a landslide yesterday blocked the busy Redhill rail line through Surrey causing delays for thousands of passengers.

Some 2,200 soldiers, sailors and air personnel had been drafted in to aid the most vulnerable by yesterday evening. Another 3,000 personnel and 11 helicopters remained on standby for immediate deployment.

Seventy per cent of England’s fire and rescue services are also involved in the extensive relief effort, chief fire and rescue adviser Peter Holland said.

Meanwhile, the much-maligned Environment Agency has confirmed that it is suspending its plans to axe hundreds of jobs, as its staff battle the elements alongside emergency services and local authorities.

But the crisis is far from over according to Met Office meteorologist Charles Powell.

“It’s going to be bad, no question about it,” he said.

“There will be a big band of rain starting in the South West and moving up, some strong winds of up to 80mph in some exposed areas of the south coast, and even snowfall predicted. The only thing we haven’t got is the fog.”

He said few places would get through to this afternoon without experiencing poor weather.

Ongoing flooding could continue to affect homes, businesses and land for at least another week, the Environment Agency said.

The Agency has 23 severe flood warnings - indicating risk to life - in force along the River Thames, the Severn at Gloucester, on the Somerset Levels and on the south coast. Hundreds more flood warnings and alerts are in place across England and Wales.

Windsor, Maidenhead, parts of Surrey and communities in Buckinghamshire, West Berkshire and Reading are at risk from the River Thames, which has seen levels rise to 60-year highs.

Severe gales, large waves and high sea levels are threatening coastal flooding on the Dorset coast, while the south coast from Cornwall to East Sussex is also at an increased risk, the Environment Agency added.

Further rainfall today also means that communities are facing flooding in the south west of England, along the Stour and Medway in Kent and along the River Severn in Gloucestershire and Worcestershire. In addition, Croydon, Hambledon, Basingstoke and Lower Farringdon in Hampshire are also considered at risk of flooding.

Prime Minister David Cameron said he is “very sorry” for the suffering caused by the extreme weather and repeated his pledge that “money is no object” in the relief effort.

Since early December, 5,800 properties have been flooded across the country.

Peter Willison, of the Environment Agency, told a Whitehall briefing: “We are likely to see more severe flood warnings along the south coast representing the risk from very strong and big waves.

“This remains a very live event. I expect we will see further property flooding.”

Regional repairs warning

In parts of North Yorkshire hit badly by this week’s high winds, residents are being warned to guard against bogus traders cold calling at their home and offering roofing, gardening or building services.

Trading standards officers say rogue traders may claim roof tiles have fallen off and need replacing or that a tree branch is dangerous and needs removing, and while they may offer to do the work for a small fee but this will usually be followed by a claim that further work is required at an extortionate price.

Trading Standards’ advises to never agree to work on the doorstep following a cold call. To report concerns, call 08454 04 05 06.