7 Dec 2015

Storm Desmond: flooding chaos across country

Prime Minister David Cameron is to visit areas hit by flooding, he announced after chairing a meeting of the Government’s Cobra emergencies committee in Downing Street.

The Government is doing all it can to help communities caught up in the devastation left by Storm Desmond, David Cameron has said.

The Prime Minister will chair a meeting of the Government’s Cobra contingencies committee on Monday to co-ordinate Whitehall’s response to flooding which has affected large swathes of Cumbria and north-west England.

“The thoughts of the whole country will be with the people in Cumbria and the North West who have suffered so terribly from the devastating storms this weekend,” he said.

“The Government is doing everything it can to help those who have seen their homes flooded – and to try and prevent further damage.

“I would like to pay a huge tribute to all those emergency workers and troops who have worked tirelessly to respond to this weekend’s events.

“There has been a tremendous response from local communities too, with people taking in families affected by the flooding.”

Funding for defence

Environment Agency chief executive Sir James Bevan has defended spending on flood defences and said it was impossible to guarantee protection against such “unprecedented” conditions.

Existing defences had prevented thousands of homes being inundated and given those who were affected more time to prepare, he told Today.

“Nature is nature. From time to time nature will throw things at us that overwhelm the system and I think that’s what happened here,” he said of the record-breaking deluge.

“You can never completely protect all communities. What you can do is make the best judgments about the most appropriate ways to protect the maximum number of people in a given place.”

There would be lessons to learn from the latest floods though, he conceded.

“Thousands of households were protected during the rainfall by our defences and, in those areas where the water did come over the tops of the defences, firstly the fact that the defences were there reduced the overall impact and extent of the flood, and secondly it gave people more time to prepare.

“So those defences did play a very important role. That doesn’t mean that we don’t need to review what happened. We will and we need to learn the lessons for the future.”

The Chancellor had protected a £2.3 billion investment in defences over five to six years, he noted.

Thousands of households were protected during the rainfall by our defences and, in those areas where the water did come over the tops of the defences

Insurers have been “mobilising a small army” of claims teams to help victims of the Storm Desmond floods – but it could take up to a year for homes to become habitable again.

Businesses and homes need to be properly assessed and dried out before people move back in, and inhabitants must avoid rushing back if their houses are not ready, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) said.

Claims teams have been in Cumbria since before the storm began because of the expected damage and have plans in place to deal with extreme weather conditions, a spokesman said.

The ABI’s Malcolm Tarling said: “If homes and businesses are uninhabitable – even a couple of inches of flood water is awful and severely traumatic – insurers will arrange and pay for emergency accommodation.

“Quite a few companies had booked claims reps into the area as early as last week when there were predictions of this, so they were almost ready to move before it started raining.”