UK floods: Army to carry out 'rapid inspection' of defences
- 16 February 2014
- From the section UK
The Army is to carry out a "rapid inspection" of England's flood defences within five weeks to assess the damage left by unprecedented flooding.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said the work would normally take two years. He also said in future the military might step in sooner.
David Cameron said the floods had been a "tragedy for all those affected".
The widow of a cruise ship passenger who died when it was hit by storms said the vessel was "badly maintained".
More than 7,000 properties in England and Wales are currently without power after the high winds in recent days.
Mr Hammond told BBC One's Andrew Marr Show the government had agreed with the Environment Agency the Royal Engineers would carry out the inspection of flood defences, starting on 24 February, with about 200 military personnel expected to be involved in the assessment.
Mr Hammond said the government had offered troops to civil authorities "a long while ago" but he said it would involve the military earlier in the process in future and would be more "aggressive" in urging local authorities to use troops.
"What we have done over the last 10 days is push them a bit more aggressively at those civil authorities," he said.
He said sending military liaison officers to local "gold commands" - meetings of public bodies such as councils and the fire service, led by the police - had been a "major step forward".
"I think probably we will want to make sure in future that we do that at a very early stage in any emerging problem," he added.
The Ministry of Defence said rules had changed since the start of the flooding so councils could now recoup all costs if they call in the military.
More than 3,000 military personnel have joined flood relief efforts, and Mr Hammond said another 5,000 were on "varying levels of notice" to help flood-stricken communities.
The Welsh government has already carried out a review of its coastal flood defences, which found they had "performed well" in December and January. It said it was spending £4.6m to repair damage done by the storms and support businesses affected.
Local councillor Colin Rayner, from Berkshire, who asked for army and police help to deal with flooding in Wraysbury said 100 soldiers arrived hours after Mr Hammond visited the village on Tuesday.
He told the BBC he had previously not been aware the council could request army support and felt the "civilian authorities had been reluctant to call in the Army".
Speaking after a meeting of the government's Cobra emergency committee, the prime minister said he hoped flood prevention work done in recent days would "minimise the number of homes and businesses affected by the latest high water levels".
Mr Cameron said rain was expected "at times" in the coming days - but "not to the levels we have seen".
Monday will be "cloudy and damp" for most of the UK, with western coasts and hills getting the most rain, said BBC Weather's Chris Fawkes. The Met Office has issued a yellow warning for rain in south-west England on Monday.
Our forecaster said the coming week's weather would be "less stormy" than recently but there would still be some rain - "particularly during the second half of the week".
The Environment Agency said the "overall picture" was "starting to improve as river levels stabilise" - but it warned waters could still rise in some areas.
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There are currently 16 severe flood warnings in place - 14 along the Thames in Berkshire and Surrey, and two in the Somerset Levels. More than 300 lower-level warnings and alerts have also been issued.
The storms continue to cause rail disruption as there are still delays and cancellations on many routes.
Labour leader Ed Miliband said the floods showed climate change was a "national security issue" for the UK.
"That means uniting as a country behind a national effort to do more to defend against the floods, to invest in clean energy and to show leadership internationally to persuade other countries to be part of the fight against climate change," he said.
Two people were killed as high winds and heavy rain hit southern England on Friday.
James Swinstead, 85, of Colchester, Essex, was killed after waves crashed through a window of the cruise ship MS Marco Polo in the English Channel as it headed for its home port of Tilbury in Essex.
His widow Helen has criticised the vessel as "badly maintained", adding "four windows blew" when the wave hit.
Cruise operator Cruise and Maritime Voyages refused to comment on Mrs Swinstead's remarks, but said the Marco Polo had undergone "stringent and rigorous surveys" and regular inspections.
Mother-of-three Julie Sillitoe, 49, from north London, died when falling masonry hit her taxi near Holborn Underground station, in central London.
A third storm victim, Bob Thomas, 77, died in hospital on Friday two days after he was hit by a falling tree in his garden in Caernarfon, north-west Wales.
Meanwhile, a firefighter based in Staines, Surrey, which has been badly hit by floods, has died on duty.
Clifford Cox died at the fire station on Saturday night. It is understood he suffered a heart attack.
Are you in the affected areas? Have you been affected by the flooding? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject heading UK weather.