Environment Secretary visits flood-hit Cornwall

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The Secretary of State for Environment has pledged practical help for flood-hit Cornwall residents to better protect their properties in the future.

Caroline Spelman visited Lostwithiel, Mevagissey and St Austell during a one-day trip to the county she said she was "very keen" to make.

The MP said the government wanted to support the affected communities.

Cornwall Council said early indications suggested that about 230 homes and about 400 businesses were affected.

A massive clean-up operation is under way after the flooding, which was caused by torrential rain overnight from Tuesday into Wednesday.

Some properties were left under 3ft (1m) of mud and about 100 households had to be evacuated.

Residents, firms and council staff are currently assessing the damage as they remove mud and water from premises and streets.

Mrs Spelman said she was keen to visit the county after Prime Minister David Cameron said the government was "ready to help in any way we can".

She said: "There's no substitute to coming down and supporting people and supporting the agencies which have, quite frankly, done an amazing job over the last 48 hours.

"I've seen with my own eyes the destruction that has been wrought by the water, and we're certainly going to see what we can do to see this community building resilience because, as far as possible, they never want to see anything like this again."

She said the government could offer practical help in making properties more flood-resistant, and working with local agencies - including Cornwall Council - in determining the costs of the clean-up operations.

The authority said that it was "too early" to speculate on how much the clean-up operation would cost.

It said a multi-agency group had been set up to lead the operation and provide support and information.

The group includes staff from the council's health protection, housing, children's, adult care, emergency management, and highways departments.

The county's fire service, health partners, the Environment Agency, utility companies and police were also involved, it added.

Highways staff are assessing the damage to roads and bridges.

There are concerns that government spending cuts could have an impact on flood defence work in the future - causing more problems when torrential rain strikes.

Lord Smith, chairman of the Environment Agency, said the agency would receive £2.1bn in government funds over the next four years, enabling it to complete existing projects.

He told the BBC: "Flood is always a traumatic thing for everyone whose home or business is affected in this way.

"The good news is that now the flood waters are receding in Cornwall and that the clean-up operation has to get under way.

"Where we will have difficulty, I fear, over the coming couple of years is in starting new flood defences that might have been possible."

Mary Dhonau, chief executive of the National Flood Forum, has said that the government must commit more money to help flood victims.

"No matter what spin David Cameron puts on it, it's a woefully insignificant amount because so many people are now at risk of flooding," she said.

"Think back to the 2007 floods - that was all over the country really and as far as I'm concerned there's nobody really that's not at risk of flooding."

The county's flooding has also been raised in the House of Commons.

Speaking in the House, North Cornwall MP and Liberal Democrat Dan Rogerson said many agencies were working together to deal with the aftermath.

He added: "Undoubtedly there will be lessons to be learnt from this, as there are from all such incidents, and I hope that the Leader [of the House] will ensure that this House has the opportunity to reflect on those difficulties that may be involved, such as early warning systems and the cost of clean-up and re-opening transport corridors."

St Blazey, St Austell, Mevagissey and Lostwithiel were the worst hit areas on Wednesday as people were trapped in their cars and homes by the rising floodwaters, which reached up to 6ft (2m) deep in places.

There were no reports of serious injuries but residents were evacuated and schools around the county were closed.

The county's transport network was badly disrupted and about 25 vehicles had to be recovered from floodwater.

Train services in and out of the county were also affected by landslides, with the mainline track between Penzance and London Paddington closed for several hours on Wednesday.

The Newquay to Par branch line remains shut after a storage tanker was washed down on to the railway track and a landslip caused subsidence under the lines.

National Rail Enquiries said buses would replace trains until early next week.

A 700-year-old bridge over the river in Lostwithiel is currently shut as engineers examine it for damage.

The Eden Project, which was hit by 3ft (1m) of floodwater in places, said it was expecting to be closed for at least a week.

Cornwall Council leader Alec Robertson said he had spoken to the prime minister on the telephone and said he had expressed his sympathy and offered government help.

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