Somerset floods: 'Major incident' declared

Man on boat in Somerset Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Several villages have been cut off during the flooding

A "major incident" has been declared for all areas affected by flooding in Somerset following warnings of further heavy rain.

Many villagers are already cut off by floods and Somerset County Council said its priority was to keep people safe.

Sedgemoor District Council has made the same announcement so it can also mobilise extra support.

The area's MP said there was a risk of catastrophic flooding unless action was taken and he asked for government help.

A major incident is declared where there is a situation which could not be dealt with easily by the local council and could threaten lives, disrupt the community or damage property.

It means the local authority can organise emergency evacuations, set up rest centres and mobilise voluntary organisations.

He said there were fears that rain at the weekend could cause problems for Langport and Westonzoyland.

The Met Office has issued an amber warning for rain on Sunday saying people living on the Somerset Levels should "be prepared for further flooding".

Somerset County Council said its decision to declare a major incident followed the forecasts of further heavy rain, coupled with high spring tides next week.

Image caption A pontoon is being built in Muchelney for use with the rescue boat

Ian Liddell-Grainger, the Conservative MP for Bridgwater, said the county faced a "very difficult weekend".

He has written to Prime Minster David Cameron and Communities Secretary Eric Pickles asking for help.

"There is a very real risk of catastrophic flooding on a scale not seen for more than a century unless we act swiftly and decisively," he said.

"I have told the prime minister we need extra pumping capacity brought here as soon as possible and we may also need help from the military if the situation progresses in the way it appears to be going."

'Urgent situation'

Deputy chief executive of Somerset County Council Pat Flaherty said: "Our priority has to be to keep people safe.

"We are doing everything we can to do this and we believe that declaring a major incident shows just how urgent the situation is for many of our residents and communities."

The council said it will continue its current help and support for people affected by flooding, including providing a boat service for the cut-off community of Muchelney and Thorney.

It will also be providing a pontoon bridge at Langport and supporting farmers providing a vital tractor service to communities.

Kerry Rickards, of Sedgemoor District Council, said: "Several Sedgemoor communities have been severely affected by the floodwaters for some weeks now.

"With significant rainfall expected over the coming days we feel this situation needs to be escalated as a major incident."

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Media captionRestricted access, stranded villagers and no sign of relief from the flooding

Sedgemoor District Council said it had dealt with two major incidents before, one in 2011 when a river wall partially collapsed in Bridgwater, leading to the evacuation of nearby homes and 19 people spending the night in emergency accommodation.

It said the second incident was in 2012 when homes were evacuated in Burnham-on-Sea after police found highly-explosive chemicals in a man's shed.

For this incident, it has provided portable toilets where septic tanks have overflowed and delivered extra sandbags on top of the 3,000 already given out.

The village of Muchelney in south Somerset has been cut off for almost a month.

A pontoon has been built there to help villagers board a boat which has been used for transport along flooded roads.

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