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Fire chief joins aid effort as rain falls on flooded Somerset Levels

By GDemianyk  |  Posted: January 25, 2014

  • Flood water covering part of the Somerset Levels in Somerset as the local authority has declared a "major incident" after weeks of flooding and predictions of further heavy rainfall.

  • A vehicle driving across the flooded Somerset Levels today as the local authority has declared a "major incident" after weeks of flooding and predictions of further heavy rainfall.

  • The Met Office predict more heavy rain will spread across the Westcountry on Sunday

  • Lee Howell Floods

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The fire chief has joined the relief effort amid the flooded lanes of Somerset by boat as heavy rain threatens to worsen the waterlogged region.

Officials declared a full-scale emergency in the Levels after a weather warning on Friday raised concerns that rising floodwaters could engulf hundreds of homes.

Evacuation plans have been drawn up and an MP has called on the Prime Minister to send in the Army to help amid fears that heavy rain today could leave swollen rivers at risk of bursting their banks.

Lee Howell, chief fire officer at Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service, surveyed the area by boat on Saturday, photographing the scene for himself.

Mr Howell joined the vital boat service operated by Somerset County Council, which is ferrying people to work and school and shipping in supplies to communities.

The emergency was declared a major incident by Sedgemoor District Council on Friday, later followed by a similar alert for all flooded parts of the county by Somerset County Council.

This means the county can ask for help, including from the military, though no plans to deploy forces personnel have yet been revealed.

Somerset MP Ian Liddell-Grainger, a fierce critic who has accused the Environment Agency of failing to dredge rivers or maintain pumps, said the priority was to prevent hundreds more homes being “invaded by the floods”.

Mr Liddell-Grainger, who wrote to David Cameron and Communities and Local Government Minister Eric Pickles asking for help, added: “There is a very real risk of catastrophic flooding on a scale not seen for more than a century unless we act swiftly and decisively.

“I have told the Prime Minister we need extra pumping capacity brought here as soon as possible and we may also need help from the military if the situation progresses in the way it appears to be going.”

The Avon and Somerset police chief constable, Nick Gargan, has been briefed on the situation and national resources such as large pumps are ready to be deployed.

Sedgemoor District Council said the “major incident” was in response to prolonged and local flooding on the Somerset Levels and the weather forecast over the next couple of days.

Council chief executive Kerry Rickards said: “With significant rainfall expected over the coming days, we feel this situation needs to be escalated as a major incident.”

The county council’s deputy chief executive Pat Flaherty added: “Our priority has to be to keep people safe.

“We are doing everything we can to do this and we believe that declaring a major incident shows just how urgent the situation is for many of our residents and communities.”

Most of the Somerset Levels remain under water, while villagers in Muchelney - which means “Big Island” in Saxon - have been cut off for three weeks.

The village, which lies between Taunton and Yeovil, was devastated last year by the worst floods in 90 years.

The Environment Agency has 9 flood warnings in force and 24 flood alerts in the South West.

Sedgemoor council says it is providing practical support to affected residents whose properties are flooded, or are predicted to flood.

This ranges from portable toilets where septic tanks are overwhelmed and sandbag collection points in local villages, as well as deliveries to the most vulnerable properties.

The council has provided 3,000 sandbags in the past few weeks, and is on standby to provide temporary accommodation and rest-centres.

There was brief respite on Saturday as calmer, drier weather passed over the Westcountry.

But the Met Office has issued an amber warning of rain for Somerset on Sunday, with 10mm to 20mm forecast.

The day will see heavy rain and strong winds which will spread east through the morning with gales up to 60mph along coasts which were due to hit Cornwall at 7am.

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