New storm threatens soggy Britain

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IOL pic feb14 britain storm AFP Large waves crash into Brighton Marina on the southern coast of England. Picture: Glyn Kirk

London - Britain faced a fresh battering on Friday as a new Atlantic storm barrelled in, threatening to dump a month's worth of rain on flood-hit communities already struggling to cope after the wettest January for 250 years.

The country's Met Office said a “multi-pronged attack” of wind, rain and snow would sweep across the country after making landfall in south-west England early on Friday.

The agency warned of huge waves on England's south coast as high tides combine with 128km/h winds.

The heavy rain could lead to another 1 000 houses being evacuated, the Environment Agency told the Daily Telegraph, with downpours of up to 40mm forecast to fall in just six hours.

Prime Minister David Cameron reiterated his promise to do “whatever it takes” to help stricken communities.

“Obviously, we are facing a very difficult time because we have got the wettest start to the year for 250 years and these are extraordinary weather events, but we are fighting on every front to help people,” he told private broadcaster ITV during a visit the northwestern coastal resort of Blackpool.

“People need to be reassured that we will do whatever it takes to help people during this very difficult time.”

The storm comes two days after hurricane-force gales tore through the country leaving one person dead, while 16 000 people remained without power on Friday.

The swollen River Thames was expected to reach its highest level for 60 years at the weekend, promising fresh misery for flooded towns west of London where the military is providing relief.

Cameron has said he will seek financial aid from the European Union to cope with the floods, despite his promises to renegotiate London's relationship with Brussels and hold a referendum.

“There is assistance that we are seeking from the EU,” he said. “Some of the money I'm making available for Britain's farmers comes out of an EU budget.”

His government has faced criticism for being slow to help people in flood-hit areas.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg later announced a £250 000 fund to advise those hit by the floods.

Gusts approaching 160km/h tore at parts of England and Wales overnight on Wednesday.

One man died after being electrocuted while attempting to move a fallen tree that had brought down power lines in Wiltshire, southwest England, the first to be killed in the latest round of storms.

The floods were also spreading, as water filled the historic crypt of Winchester Cathedral in the southern county of Hampshire.

Authorities also issued a new severe flood alert, the highest category indicating danger to life, for the River Severn in western England, bringing the total across the country to 17. There are another 14 in Berkshire and Surrey to the west of London and two in the southwestern county of Somerset.

More than 5 800 properties have been flooded since early December, officials said.

Emergency efforts were picking up following criticism of a sluggish response, and the military said 1 600 soldiers had been deployed with 2 000 in total available.

Train operator Network Rail said teams armed with chainsaws and pumps were on stand-by to deal with Friday's forecast storm.

Britain also faces an economic battering after Bank of England governor Mark Carney said the fragile recovery from recession would be affected as the bad weather hits farming and transport.

“There's a big human cost here and I absolutely recognise that,” Carney told ITV News. “Then there's the disruption to economic activity that we see just through transport, but farming clearly will be affected for some time, (and) other businesses.

“It is something that will affect the near-time outlook.”

Cameron has said that money is “no object” in the relief effort.

He also said grants of up to £5 000 would be available to businesses and homeowners affected by flooding to allow them to protect their properties better in future. - AFP

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