British flood victims angry at lack of help

February 12, 2014 - 5:00:31 am

Residents use a boat to move along a flooded street in Egham yesterday.

DATCHET, United Kingdom: The floodwaters are rising in Datchet but there appears to be no one around to help except David Cannon the water-taxi man.

This quaint English town may be just a mile from the elite Eton College where Britain’s prime minister went to school, but residents say they are waiting in vain for any substantial help from the government.

Instead it is up to people like Cannon, a 52-year-old scoutmaster, and other volunteers to help get people through the waters that have come from the swollen River Thames.

“It’s a very popular service at the moment,” Cannon said in the driving rain after giving a local resident a lift in his red canoe.

“We have been running some children to school and also taking sandbags where they’re needed.”

He said the response of the British authorities had been “very disorganised”. “They supplied sandbags yesterday and we had the military here last night but there’s been nothing since then.”

Datchet backs on to the famed playing fields of Eton, where British Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson went to school, and just a few miles from Queen Elizabeth II’s Windsor Castle.

Cameron’s government is now fighting a tide of criticism over its handling of the crisis.

Driven by the wettest winter in England since 1766, the floods first hit southwest England about seven weeks ago.

But they are now creeping eastwards towards London, into the wealthy suburbs lining the River Thames which are the heartland of Cameron’s centre-right Conservative party.

With elections in May 2015, senior figures from all the main political parties have been visiting stricken areas to show they care.

The water is at least knee-deep in the centre of Datchet, a riverside commuter town with its historic church and mock tudor-fronted buildings that is so close to London’s Heathrow Airport that the planes sometimes drown out conversation.

Several homes and businesses have been flooded here. But the only sign of any official activity is the occasional fire engine pushing up huge bow waves as it drives through the deluge.

“It’s pretty pathetic. There’s been no response whatsoever,” said Yvonne Marks, 62, as she grimly surveyed the scene in the wind and rain.

“There’s a shortage of sandbags, and what sandbags they have delivered aren’t really making any difference.”

The response is similar in the village of Wraysbury, about three miles (five kilometres) away, where the floodwaters are even higher. Wraysbury flood warden Su Burrows became something of a celebrity after she emotionally berated visiting Defence Secretary Philip Hammond on live television for his handling of the crisis.

Later, she said that her tirade appeared to have had some effect because she saw 2,000 sandbags being taken in to Wraysbury on the back of trucks.