British Prime Minister David Cameron warned on Tuesday that flooding was likely going to get worse before it got better, pledging money was now no object to battling back the rising waters.
Cameron scrapped a previously unannounced trip to Israel and the Palestinian Territories next week in order to stay home and deal with the floods, as the government faced renewed criticism that it was under-prepared.
Troops were sent in to help deal with the worsening situation in southern England as hundreds of homes were swamped along the River Thames and rail services succumbed to the bad weather.
Affluent towns and villages along the Thames to the west of London have been transformed into lagoons.
More than 1,000 homes have been evacuated along the Thames, in villages and towns such as Wraysbury, Datchet and Chertsey, and the situation was set to worsen with heavy rain and storms on the way by tomorrow.
“There is absolutely no sign of this threat abating, and with further rain and strong winds forecast throughout the week, things may get worse before they get better,” Cameron told reporters at his Downing Street office. “Money is no object in this relief effort. Whatever money is needed for it will be spent. We will take whatever steps are necessary.”
As for his planned Middle East trip, Cameron said he would instead continue to “lead the national response” by chairing the government’s COBRA emergency committee.
He said he was sending his apologies to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, “but nothing is more important than dealing with these floods.”
It would have been Cameron’s first trip to the region since becoming prime minister in 2010.
Flooding first hit the largely rural southwestern county of Somerset, but has now engulfed towns and village along the swollen Thames in the southeast, encroaching toward London.
A total of 1,600 troops have been deployed and some were already at work filling sandbags in Wraysbury, where one resident had a bitter exchange with Secretary of State for Defence Philip Hammond.
Su Burrows, a volunteer flood warden, said the relief effort had been left to residents like her and pleaded with Hammond for military help to distribute sandbags.
“I’m sorry, I am going to get emotional. There are 100 people of this village currently working together, none of them [Environment Agency] agents, not one,” she told him in the exchange on Sky News television.
Burrows later said that her blast seemed to have borne fruit, as 2,000 sandbags were sent to Wraysbury, followed soon afterwards by 100 soldiers.
Hammond earlier cautioned that government cannot “prevent the course of nature.”
Insurers said overall claims had already exceeded ￡500 million (US$825 million) and the bill would rise fast.
Cameron said ￡2.4 billion would be spent on flood defenses between 2010 and 2014.
However, “when you have these extraordinary weather events, the wettest winter for 250 years, it is very difficult to have all the protections in place that you need,” he said.