UK faces mass power cuts after new storm

February 14, 2014 - 6:50:28 am

A resident stands in his flooded living room with all his furniture raised on wooden chairs to protect them from water, at Egham after the River Thames burst its banks in southeast England yesterday.

LONDON: Hurricane-force winds from an Atlantic storm left tens of thousands of Britons without power yesterday and one man dead, adding to the misery after devastating floods caused by the wettest winter in 250 years.

Around 80,000 households remain without electricity, with Wales the worst affected by the “Wild Wednesday” storms, although the figure was reduced from some 150,000 overnight as electricity workers battled to reconnect people.

The latest problems pile pressure on Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron’s government, which has faced criticism for being slow to help people in flood-hit areas. 

“We have seen some pretty horrendous conditions,” said Tim Field of the Energy Networks Association, which represents energy companies, adding that they were trying to get people back on line as fast as possible.

 Britain also faces an economic battering after Bank of England governor Mark Carney said the fragile recovery from recession would be affected as the bad weather hits farming and transport.

“There’s a big human cost here and I absolutely recognise that,” he told ITV News. “Then there’s the disruption to economic activity that we see just through transport, but farming clearly will be affected for some time, other businesses. “It is something that will affect the near-time outlook.”

Major General Patrick Sanders, who is co-ordinating the armed forces response that has seen hundreds of troops on the streets, called the conditions an “almost unparalleled natural crisis”.

Gusts approaching 160km per hour tore at parts of England and Wales overnight, and the River Thames was predicted to rise to its highest level in more than 60 years in places, threatening towns and villages to the west of London.

One man died after being electrocuted while attempting to move a fallen tree that had brought down power lines in Wiltshire, southwest England, the first to be killed in the latest round of storms.

The floods were also spreading, as water filled the historic crypt of Winchester Cathedral in the southern county of Hampshire. The gothic cathedral has the longest nave in Europe. The weather conditions brought chaos for commuters, stranding a train carrying hundreds of passengers after overhead lines came down in Yorkshire, northern England.

The Met Office national weather service issued a red warning — the highest threat level — for “exceptionally strong winds” in western parts of Wales and northwest England. More than 5,800 properties have flooded since early December, officials said. 

The flooding started in the southwestern county of Somerset but since January the River Thames near London has been badly affected with more than 1,100 properties deluged there since January 29, authorities said.

More soldiers were drafted in to rescue residents and lay sandbags in deluged villages where primary schools have been transformed into makeshift emergency centres. 

Fourteen severe flood warnings — indicating a danger to life — were in place in Berkshire and Surrey to the west of London, while two remain in Somerset.

Forecasters said 2.75 inches of rain would fall by today in southwest England. Emergency efforts were picking up following criticism of a sluggish response, and the military said 1,600 soldiers had been deployed with 2,000 in total available.

The bad weather also hit midweek football fixtures, with Manchester City’s Premier League match with Sunderland and Everton’s game with Crystal Palace both called off because strong winds made the journey unsafe for fans. 

Manchester United fans who travelled to Arsenal in London late on Wednesday were also affected, as trains back to the northwestern city were cancelled and the main motorway there was shut.

The embattled Environment Agency — the government body responsible for flood defences that has faced the brunt of criticism — fought to defend its reputation.

Chief Executive, Paul Leinster, said: “We continue to have teams out on the ground 24/7 working to protect lives, homes, businesses, communities and farmland.”

Cameron has said that “money is no object in this relief effort”.

He also said grants of up to £5,000 would be available to businesses and homeowners affected by flooding to allow them to better protect their properties in future.