UK PM on spot over floods as Europe hit by freak weather

28th December 2015, Comments 0 comments

British Prime Minister David Cameron visited the flood-hit historic city of York Monday as thousands of people in northern England started a clean-up amid volatile weather conditions around Europe.

Cameron met soldiers and volunteers helping with the aftermath of the flooding which has struck across the region, and promised to provide more help as he came under pressure to do more to assist households hit by the post-Christmas chaos.

Around 500 properties were flooded in York, one of Britain's top tourist destinations known for its Gothic cathedral, on Sunday as two rivers burst their banks. The water was so high on some residential streets that cars were covered up to their roofs.

Soldiers helped pile sandbags up to protect properties and businesses while emergency services paddled around streets in dinghies trying to find stranded residents.

Flooding has also hit the northern cities of Leeds and Manchester in recent days, as well as a string of towns and villages in the region.

After his visit, Cameron wrote on Twitter that Yorkshire would "get more of the protection needed to deal with floods".

Britain's Environment Agency had nine severe flood warnings in place Monday, signalling a "danger to life", chiefly at points along major rivers in Yorkshire.

There were also over 120 flood warnings or alerts in place in England and Wales, meaning flooding was either expected or possible.

Cameron sent in 200 more troops to help 300 already on the ground in northern England with tackling the effects of flooding Sunday. Another 1,000 are on standby in case the situation gets worse.

The Met Office weather forecasting service has issued warnings of rain on Wednesday in northwest and northeast England plus Wales, Northern Ireland and parts of Scotland.

- 'Changing climate' -

It is not only Britain which has been hit by unpredictable weather conditions in recent days -- a string of other European countries have also seen disruption.

Unusually high temperatures in the Alps have meant a lack of snow for the ski season which has left resort staff in France worrying about a lack of employment.

In Italy, cars were banished from the streets of Milan for three days from Monday, while in Rome, owners of cars with odd-numbered plates were ordered to leave them at home, both due to a smog build-up after unseasonably dry and calm weather.

In northern Spain, fire crews battled more than 130 forest fires and over 2,000 hectares of land, much of it in two natural parks, have gone up in smoke in the last week.

Officials said most of the fires were started deliberately amid unusually dry conditions and high temperatures.

As the clear-up in Britain got under way, Cameron's government was under pressure over the quality of flood defences.

Britain has been hit by a series of serious floods recently including in Cumbria, northern England, earlier this month and in late 2013 and early 2014 in southwest and southeast England.

Ministers announced a review earlier this month following the Cumbria floods which will look at whether homes have enough protection.

David Rooke, deputy chief executive of the Environment Agency government body, told BBC radio that a "complete rethink" was needed.

"I think it (the review) will lead to the conclusion that we will need to reassess all the defences right across the country to say what standard of protection have we now got based on current science and what standard of protection will be needed in the future in the face of this changing climate," he added.

The Guardian newspaper said in an editorial: "Climate change and inadequate preparation... ensure that the floods will become a painfully regular future of British life" while the Sun's front page headline read: "Blunder water -- flood defences failure".


© 2015 AFP

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