Military may be drafted in to help flood-hit Somerset

A strong wind whips up waves near Burrow Mump the only land above water in the area. Image copyright Paul Silvers
Image caption Specialist Army vehicles could be drafted in to help tackle flooding, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has said

Military vehicles could be drafted in to help flood-hit Somerset, the environment secretary has said.

Owen Paterson said the Ministry of Defence was in talks to "deploy specialist vehicles" to affected areas.

After chairing the emergency Cobra committee, Mr Paterson said: "We had a very constructive discussion with Somerset County Council, who have asked for assistance."

The Somerset Levels have been badly hit by flooding in recent weeks.

Villages such as Muchelney have been cut off for almost a month and about 11,500 hectares (28,420 acres) of the Levels are flooded by about 65 million cubic metres of water.

'Sandbag help'

Earlier, David Cameron announced rivers in Somerset would be dredged as soon as water levels drop.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Owen Paterson was confronted by protesters on a visit to Somerset

He said: "We are urgently exploring what further help the government can give to local residents to move around and will rule nothing out in the days ahead to get this problem sorted."

The Environment Agency has been pumping water from the Somerset Levels and has extra pumps working on Northmoor and Saltmoor.

But Mr Paterson said that with "further bad weather forecast in the coming days" there was a "risk to a significant number of properties from flooding".

He said: "As we speak, the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Local Government are discussing how we could deploy specialist vehicles which could help some of those villages which have been cut off.

"Secondly, there will also be help with sandbags which could help prevent further flooding."

'Flooding crisis'

According to Mr Paterson the council had only asked "for assistance for the first time today".

But a council spokesman said the authority had "been in discussions with the military" for several weeks about possible help including "amphibious vehicles, extra sandbags, and support manpower".

"The council had actually planned to get some amphibious vehicles in, paid for by public money, because this situation really needed to be sorted out," said leader John Osman.

"We were due to place an order imminently, but the government saying the military will be involved has saved the public purse that money."

Mr Osman said it was hoped the "specialist military vehicles and help" would arrive in the county within 24 hours.

"We are now getting the very fast response that we have appealed for," he said.

"That is what residents in Somerset who have faced up to this flooding crisis for more than a month really deserve."

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