Somerset flood support: Army not currently needed, says council

Flooded fields around the River Tone in Somerset Image copyright AP
Image caption The Somerset Levels are flooded by about 65 million cubic metres of water

Somerset County Council has announced military help is not needed as the fire service is meeting "current needs".

It follows a meeting between the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and council officials to discuss possible action to support people in flood-hit Somerset.

On Wednesday Owen Paterson announced amphibious vehicles could be deployed to help flood victims within 24 hours.

But Pat Flaherty, council deputy chief executive, said the military would "remain in Somerset" on stand-by.

At a news conference earlier, Mr Flaherty said the military had "come in at short notice" and had been working with council teams "to assess and plan for what is required".

"The fire service has met that need through its national specialist vehicles and trained staff," he said.

But he added with the "potential for high winds and high tides and more rain" over the weekend on an "already soaked catchment" there was potential for further flooding.

"With that in mind we're still working very closely with the military who remain in Somerset, planning with us," he said.

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Media captionMilitary planners have been sent to Somerset to decide how they can help to prevent further flooding

"We also have the resilience of knowing that their equipment and personnel are ready to be mobilised should we require them."

'Contingency plan'

The Devon and Somerset Fire Service now has 10 high-volume pumps on stand-by in a "strategic holding area" and use of high-axle 4x4 vehicles as well as access to two hovercraft.

And Chief Supt Caroline Peters, from Avon and Somerset Police, said she was confident the civil authorities could manage.

"The military have been able to come in, with the support of the fire service, and put in place contingency plans so that we are able to respond," she said.

"At this stage though, we are very comfortable with the civil contingencies that we have in place and the resources we have, we can manage this."

Another meeting of Cobra, the government's emergency response committee, was convened earlier chaired by the environment secretary.

Following the meeting, Mr Paterson said the council had been "very grateful" for the "logistics help" and "help with some specialist vehicles" given

"The military are on standby as sadly there is a spell of bad weather coming in and they may be needed for further activities," he said.

'100 Military personnel'

Earlier, the MoD said up to 100 military personnel, the majority from Taunton-based 40 Commando, were on standby.

And routes that could potentially be used by vehicles were being "reconnoitred" and tested.

Image caption Military planners have been assessing the flooding situation in Somerset since first light

"As well as vehicle crews, up to 100 military personnel are standing by for duties likely to include sandbag filling and loading," the MoD said on its Twitter feed.

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.

More heavy rain is expected over the next few days.

Maj Al Robinson, from the Royal Engineers, who has been assessing how the military can help, said they were "concentrating on understanding the situation" and "very much supporting the planning which the local council are doing".

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

Councillor David Hall, deputy leader of Somerset County Council, said: "We've been promised that we'll have access to whatever we need in terms of personnel and military vehicles at very short notice.

"What it potentially means is that we will have military personnel to supplement what we are doing already to help people.

"The second biggie - we are expecting more rain, high winds, and potentially some tidal surge problems this weekend so it's very reassuring we are going to have extra support on hand if needed."

David Heath, the Liberal Democrat MP for Somerton and Frome, said it was "very welcome news that the military are going to lend a hand".

"We are expecting another high spring tide at the weekend along with a lot more rain.

"Where there is specialist equipment I would certainly like to see the engineers see what they can do to improve access."

'Huge pumping operation'

MP Maria Eagle, Labour's shadow environment secretary, has criticised the government's response to the flooding.

She said environment secretary Owen Paterson had "dithered" and "failed to take flooding seriously".

"Just days after the environment secretary announced that he wanted to see a concrete plan presented to him in six weeks, David Cameron has had enough of Owen Paterson's dithering and called in the army."

She said the environment secretary had failed to take "flooding seriously".

But a Defra spokeswoman said Mr Paterson was making sure "everything that can be done is being done to help those affected".

"There have been regular Cobra meetings during the recent floods to co-ordinate the government's response," she said.

"The Environment Agency continues to work hard to help communities affected during the flooding, carrying out a huge pumping operation in the Somerset Levels to pump away over a million tonnes of water a day."

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