Troops Deployed To West Country To Help Victims Of Somerset Flooding

Troops Sent To Help Somerset Flood Victims

Soldiers are being deployed to Somerset to bring relief to villages cut off by flooding.

The Government has agreed to send the Army to the Somerset Levels, which has seen 65 square kilometres of land swamped after the most significant flooding for 20 years.

Specialist vehicles are being brought in so troops can deliver food to stricken villagers, transport people and deliver sandbags.

The Ministry of Defence said last night it was deploying military planners to help Somerset County Council, adding that soldiers would be on the ground in the county from this morning.

Speaking to the BBC after a meeting of the Government's emergency Cobra committee, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said last night: "The Ministry of Defence and the Department for Local Government are discussing how we could deploy specialist vehicles which could help some of those villages which have been cut off, to help people travel backwards and forwards, to get fuel and food in and out, and to help with transport from dry land.

"And secondly, there will also be help with sandbags which could help prevent further flooding."

It comes as further heavy rain is expected in the area, with the Met Office issuing yellow weather warnings for significant rain tomorrow and Saturday.

Chris Burton, a forecaster with weather company MeteoGroup, said up to 25mm (1in) could fall across the Somerset Levels throughout tomorrow, with strong winds of up to 60mph.

Mr Paterson was met with hostility when he visited Somerset on Monday, with farmers, politicians and church leaders demanding immediate action to alleviate what furious residents described as "Third World" conditions.

He said yesterday the county council had only asked for assistance "for the first time today".

But a council spokesman said the authority had been discussing with the military for weeks the possibility of bringing in manpower, sandbags and amphibious vehicles.

John Osman, Conservative leader of Somerset County Council, said military might would give beleaguered residents the chance to repair their battered properties, with the village of Muchelney cut off since the turn of the year because of flooded roads.

He said: "The council had actually planned to get some amphibious vehicles in, paid for by public money, because this situation really needed to be sorted out. People's homes and properties have been under flood water for weeks.

"We were due to place an order imminently, but the Government saying the military will be involved has saved the public purse that money."

Mr Paterson's announcement about Army intervention came after Prime Minister David Cameron pledged rapid action to deal with the crisis, promising that dredging of rivers would start as soon as the present waters could be reduced to a safe level.

Pressed by local MPs Jeremy Browne and David Heath at Commons questions, Mr Cameron said more pumps would be brought in to remove water as soon as there is capacity in rivers to support it.

And he promised that departments across Whitehall, including Transport, Communities and Local Government, and the Treasury, would work together to crack the problem.

Many parts of the Levels have been flooded since Christmas and there are fears it could be many months before the water is completely pumped away.

Environment Agency (EA) teams have been running dozens of pumps 24 hours a day to drain an estimated 1.5 million tonnes of water (equivalent to 600 Olympic-sized swimming pools) off the Levels.

Drainage experts blame two decades of under-investment in flood defence work for turning the Levels into a "disaster area" and said it was "very, very urgent" that rivers are dredged to prevent more damage to homes, livelihoods and wildlife.

The EA has come under fire from MPs and local councils, but insists that increased dredging of the rivers would not have prevented the recent flooding and was "often not the best long-term or economic solution".

Mr Heath, the Liberal Democrat MP for Somerset and Frome, welcomed the Army's assistance and the promise of dredging in the future.

He told the Daily Telegraph: "It seems that we have a real sense of urgency now from the Government as to what we need in Somerset."

Mr Heath said he had suggested at the weekend involving the military, adding: "We have the RNAS Yeovilton, the commando helicopter force, on our doorstep. We have got 40 Commando Royal Marines just up the road and we could certainly use, I think, Royal Engineer support as well."

The Prime Minister's promise was welcomed by council bosses and campaign groups fighting to stop the flooding.

Mr Osman said: "We have lobbied hard to get national attention, we are in a major incident due to the extent and length of time that much of the county is flooded.

"Now we have the PM behind us, people can start to believe that real action, dredging the rivers, sorting the drainage systems, protecting our communities will really happen. I am delighted to hear this."

John Williams, leader of Taunton Deane Borough Council, also praised the move and called for any decisions to be made in partnership with local councils and agencies trying to find a long-term solution to the flooding problem.

Edwin White, chairman of the Royal Bath and West of England Society, called for water management of the Somerset Levels to be given back to local people from the EA.

He said: "The Environment Agency has failed miserably and I think the Government ought to welcome with open arms some self-help from within the community."


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