Flood-hit residents hit out today after 400 tons of water a second went surging towards the medieval town of Shrewsbury as UK river levels rose to record highs.
Dozens of the traditional Tudor-style buildings in the Shropshire town have been flooded, with hundreds of sandbags placed outside shops and businesses amid a severe ‘danger to life’ flood warning for the River Severn.
At Welsh Bridge, the Severn measured 15.1ft (4.6m) at 7am this morning and is expected to peak at 16.1ft (4.9m) tonight – not far off the highest level ever recorded there in November 2000 when it got up to 17.2ft (5.25m).
The mounting concerns came as Downing Street defended Boris Johnson’s continued absence from flooded areas, insisting it was important not to ‘distract’ from the ongoing effort to deal with the problem.
The Prime Minister hosted consumer and lifestyle journalists today, and has still not visited flood-hit areas despite facing pressure to do so and staying at Chevening, the Foreign Secretary’s grace-and-favour estate in Kent.
Number 10 said Environment Secretary George Eustice was ‘rightly’ leading the Government’s response. Mr Eustice will deliver a statement to Parliament and face MPs’ questions over the flooding later today from 5pm.
Among the residents desperately trying to protect their homes and businesses was mother-of-two Hayley Lock, 40, who said: ‘I live near the river and I’m really, really scared. I’ve never seen the river so high.
Dangerously high water levels in Shrewsbury today after the River Severn burst its banks in the medieval Shropshire town
A man makes his way carefully between the flooded Smithfield Road in Shrewsbury (left) and the River Severn (right) today
A man carrying a reel of hose wades back to his property on Water Lane in Shrewsbury today near the River Severn
Floodwater at Worcestershire County Cricket Club after the ground was flooded today following the Severn bursting its banks
Martin Lunt views the damage in his flooded shop Lunts Pharmacies in Shrewsbury today as further flood warnings are issued
A flooded car park in Shrewsbury today with two vehicles nearly completely submerged after the River Severn burst its banks
A barber’s shop on the flooded Smithfield Road in Shrewsbury today as further flood warnings were issued across England
‘It’s Biblical out there. Urgent money needs to be ploughed into all towns that are at risk from flooding. Sod HS2, we need the cash to protect out towns now.’
Dave Throup, the Environment Agency’s manager for Herefordshire and Worcestershire – which have also suffered major flooding – warned the latest rainfall in the Welsh Hills could ‘be the straw that broke the camel’s back’.
After inspecting the levels on the River Severn this morning, he added: ‘An incredible 400 tonnes of water a second are approaching Shrewsbury on the River Severn. We have one of the highest recordings at Montford.’
Mr Throup warned that ‘significant floods’ would impact the town as well as Worcester over the next three days, saying: ‘We will be deploying more flood defences in Shrewsbury soon.
‘Flood warnings have been issued for the town and we now expect levels to exceed those seen last week. These will be the highest seen in 20 years. Some property flooding and significant disruption is expected.’
Mr Johnson’s continued absence from flooded areas has been defended by Downing Street, with officials insisting it was important not to ‘distract’ from the ongoing effort to deal with the problem.
The Prime Minister had been receiving ‘regular updates’ about the situation as he spent time at the grace-and-favour Chevening mansion last week.
Number 10 said Mr Eustice was ‘rightly’ leading the Government’s response to the flooding which has hit parts of the UK.
Environment Agency flood alerts (in orange) and warnings (in red) for England today [left], and another map [right] showing record breaking river levels this winter (in red) and record breaking levels in the past decade (in green)
Mr Johnson speaks to consumer and lifestyle journalists in Westminster today. Downing Street has said it is important not to ‘distract’ from the ongoing effort to deal with the severe weather
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is pictured at 10 Downing Street today hosting a working breakfast with consumer and lifestyle publications. Downing Street has defended Boris Johnson’s continued absence from flooded areas
Martin Lunt views the damage in his flooded pharmacy, Lunts Pharmacies, in Shrewsbury, today
Flooded roads and walkways in Shrewsbury are pictured today after the River Severn burst its banks
A van in a flooded car park in Shrewsbury today amid fears the severe weather could close off the centre of the town
Flooding in Shrewsbury as barriers have been put up and a severe flood warning is in place for the River Severn
The swollen River Severn in Shrewsbury today, while there are hundreds of flood warnings and alerts in place for England
A car sits in floodwater in a flooded car park in Shrewsbury today amid fears that conditions could get even worse this week
The flooded Smithfield Road in Shrewsbury is picture today, as further flood warnings were issued across England and Wales
Two people look down at the flooded Smithfield Road in Shrewsbury today as further flood warnings were issued
£500 for Welsh homes devastated by storms
Households affected by flooding from storms Ciara and Dennis will each receive £500, the Welsh Government has announced.
Hundreds of homes and businesses across the country were hit by flooding caused by the storms.
The cost of written-off cars in the village of Pentre, Rhondda Cynon Taf, alone is estimated to cost more than £1 million.
Natural Resources Wales still has 13 flood warnings and 39 flood alerts in place due to further rain.
On Monday, the Welsh Government announced that all households affected by flooding would receive £500.
An extra £500 will be available to those without house insurance cover.
First Minister Mark Drakeford said: ‘When I met people from flood-hit communities over the last week, I saw for myself the stress, strain and loss people are experiencing.
‘We want to do all we can to help them at this extremely stressful time.’
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn visited Rhydyfelin, South Wales, last week and challenged the Prime Minister to visit flood-hit communities.
Mr Johnson’s decision to stay away from flooded towns and villages is in marked contrast to his response during the general election campaign, when he carried out visits and called an emergency Cobra meeting.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘We are hugely grateful to all of those who have helped in response, from the Environment Agency engineers and the emergency services out on the ground to the military who have stepped in to assist.
‘The Government has extensive plans in place to deal with these kinds of extreme weather events and we are working tirelessly to help everyone affected.
‘The Environment Secretary and his department is rightly leading the Government’s response to this, ensuring teams who are busy working around the clock have the support and resources they need.
‘It’s important not to distract from that ongoing effort.’
The spokesman rejected the suggestion that Mr Johnson had visited flooded areas during the election simply to win votes.
Asked whether Number 10 was concerned that it looked as though the Prime Minister simply did not care, the spokesman said: ‘The PM was receiving regular updates and working with ministers across Government to ensure that people received the help that they need.
‘We are hugely grateful to all of those volunteers and others who have been working so hard on their response.’
Flooded roads and walkways in Shrewsbury are pictured today after the River Severn burst its banks
The Riverbank bar in Shrewsbury is pictured today following severe flooding that has hit parts of Shropshire
Sarah, one of the residents of flats in Shrewsbury, looks out over flooded gardens today after the River Severn burst its banks
A man surveys the flooding on Berwick Road in Shrewsbury today as warnings of further flooding are issued across the UK
Flooded gardens from a flat on the corner of Berwick Road and Gravel Hill Lane in Shrewsbury near the River Severn today
Submerged garages on Gravel Hill Lane in Shrewsbury near the River Severn today amid warnings of further flooding
Flooding on Gravel Hill Lane in Shrewsbury near the River Severn today as the country braces for further severe weather
A man looks at the flooding outside a block of flats on Berwick Road in Shrewsbury near the River Severn this morning
Flooded gardens are photographed from a flat on the corner of Berwick Road and Gravel Hill Lane in Shrewsbury today
A man walks through the knee-deep floodwater on Berwick Road in Shrewsbury today as the severe weather continues
West Mercia Police also warned residents to avoid flood-hit areas and only make essential journeys, adding that river levels were dropping in some areas but are set to rise quickly at the top end of the Severn in Shropshire.
Officers added that flood barriers and schemes were in operation across Shrewsbury as well as other areas such as Bewdley in Worcestershire.
Shropshire Council is now in discussions with other bodies about plans to install a £40million flood defence scheme to protect the town in future.
Councillor Steve Davenport said: ‘We’ve been thinking about ways to hold back the River Severn for some time now but given what’s happened recently, it needs to be brought forward.
‘Early plans suggest that when the North West Relief Road is built, the river could be held back under the bridge that is going to be constructed by putting in flood attenuation panels that would slow down the flow of the water and stop it from rising so quickly.
‘It’s a very big scheme that could cost upwards of £40million but it will really benefit thousands and thousands of homes in these counties that have been devastated by the recent floods.’
This morning, northern parts of the UK were blanketed in snow, as further flood warnings have been issued across England and Wales. The white stuff has been spotted in Scotland, Cumbria, Northumberland and Yorkshire.
Sandbags outside businesses in Shrewsbury today where the River Severn has broken broken its banks
A man walks through floodwater in Shrewsbury today after the Shropshire town was badly hit by the severe weather
This shopping road in Shrewsbury has been submerged today after the River Severn broke its banks
Worcestershire County Cricket Club has been flooded after the River Severn burst its banks
A sign is just about poking out above the floodwater in Shrewsbury today after the River Severn burst its banks
A man walks through the floodwater in Shrewsbury today which has been hit by severe weather in recent days
Worcestershire County Cricket Club is flooded today after the River Severn burst its banks
Worcester Cathedral is pictured behind Worcestershire County Cricket Club which has been flooded today
The Met Office has warned that rural communities could become stranded and told to expect delays and cancellations to travel plans by road, rail, and air.
This morning, one severe threat-to-life flood warning was in place for the River Severn at Shrewsbury, alongside more than 90 other flood warnings, and 182 less serious flood alerts across England and Wales.
The warnings and alerts stretched from St Ives, in south west Cornwall to Carlisle near the Scottish border.
Over the weekend, an Environment Agency spokesman said ongoing flooding is possible for parts of the West Midlands, along the Severn and Wye and also in parts of the north of England, including in the lower River Aire in Yorkshire. He said: ‘This rain is falling on saturated catchments where river levels are already high.’
A couple shelter from waves crashing over Folkestone promenade in Kent today as bad weather continues to cause issues
Strong waves hit the promenade in Folkestone, Kent, today as bad weather continues to cause problems across the country
Members of the Westmeath County Council flood prevention team work in Athlone in County Westmeath today
Westmeath County Council flood prevention workers work in Athlone today after a status yellow rainfall warning was issued
Employees from Westmeath County Council work on flood prevention measures in Athlone, County Westmeath, today