Ordinary Britons have so far coped admirably with widespread flooding. But the rain is still falling. Much of southern England is now sodden, and parts of the Thames Valley and Somerset are simply underwater. Community spirit is going to have to sustain the south for a long time yet http://econ.st/1cyEbLF
River Thames Bursts Banks, Flooding Homes Near London
Flooding Follows Wettest January Since 1776
Updated Feb. 10, 2014 7:46 p.m. ET
LONDON—Hundreds of homes have flooded and hundreds more are at risk to the west of London after the River Thames burst its banks on Monday as England continued to suffer from one of the wettest winters in more than two centuries, authorities said.
With waters predicted to rise further this week, Prime Minister David Cameron said the government would do all it could to assist those affected as he visited flood-hit areas in the southwest of England.
However, his efforts to present a coordinated response were undermined after parts of the government blamed each other for not doing more to protect communities. The opposition Labour Party also accused the government of being slow to react.
The Environment Agency, which manages flood defenses, said England has had the wettest January since 1776 and is heading toward the wettest winter—defined as the months of December, January and February—in 250 years. Pete Fox, the agency's National Duty Manager for Flooding, said southern England had suffered the wettest January on record with some places getting double the average rainfall.
"Our very latest figures suggest that we've seen around 800 to 900 properties flooded since the end of last week," he said in a briefing with reporters, according to a transcript provided by the government. "We are still looking and focusing our attention on the Thames."
Continued rains after England's wettest January since the 18th century have meant severe flooding in southern regions of the country. Via The Foreign Bureau, WSJ's global news update. Photo: Getty
The flooding has come despite the efforts of the agency's staff, volunteers and the support of the military to protect properties from the rising waters. The government said strategic sites such as water and electrical plants were being given special attention to ensure that homes weren't left without vital resources.
Sarah Davies, a senior adviser at the Met Office, the national weather service, said southern and western parts of the U.K. were expected to get up to an additional 1.6 inches of rainfall by the end of this week, with 3.5 inches or more in some upland areas like Dartmoor in the southwest of England and the Brecon Beacons in Wales. Strong winds in the middle of the week could also cause disruption.
"So whilst we're all concentrating on the impacts from the flooding, we also need to be aware that there could be impacts due to strong stormy winds, and those could involve trees down, transport disruption, possibly some power disruption," she told the same briefing.
U.K. Waters Go On Rising
The River Thames has burst its banks flooding riverside towns upstream of London Monday, after England's wettest January since 1766. Zuma Press
As of late Monday, the Environment Agency had severe flood warnings—meaning there is a danger to life—for 14 areas in the southeast of England and two in the southwest, one of the hardest hit regions. It also warned that flooding was expected and immediate action required for 131 further areas across England and Wales, with the highest risk seen in the Midlands, southeast and southwest of the country, and flooding was also possible in a further 216 areas.
The Thames Barrier, one of the largest movable flood barriers in the world, closed Monday morning and would be closed again later until early hours of Tuesday, the agency said. Since the beginning of January 2014 the barrier, designed to protect 125 square kilometers of central London from flooding caused by tidal surges, has been closed 29 times.
"Extreme weather will continue to threaten communities this week, with further severe flooding expected Monday evening into Tuesday along the Thames in [the counties of] Berkshire and Surrey," Paul Leinster, the chief executive of the Environment Agency, said in a statement. "River levels are high across southwest, central and southern England and further rain has the potential to cause significant flooding."
Significant groundwater flooding was also expected in the southeast, including parts of London, the agency said.
Eric Pickles, the minister responsible for local government, told Parliament that the River Thames had burst its banks in some locations and police had declared a major incident.
Some of the heaviest flooding has been in the Somerset Levels, a coastal-plain farming area in southwest England about 140 miles from London. The government has accepted a reduction in dredging of rivers there in the past may have exacerbated the flooding and apologized.
Coastal areas have also been battered by heavy winds and high tides. Last week the sea washed away the ground under a section of railway in the coastal town of Dawlish, leaving it dangling in the air like a rope bridge and knocking out a vital rail link connecting the southwestern counties of Devon and Cornwall with the rest of Britain.
Train operators said services were unable to run in parts of the Thames Valley and southwest of England Monday.
"I'm only interested in one thing and that is making sure that everything the government can do is being done and will go on being done to help people through this difficult time," Mr. Cameron told BBC television. Last week the government pledged an additional 130 million pounds ($213 million) to help households, businesses and farmers cope with the severe weather.
Nevertheless, a political row erupted after Mr. Pickles told the BBC Sunday that the government had relied too much on the advice of the Environment Agency and it had been a mistake to reduce dredging of rivers in Somerset. Asked whether the agency's chairman, Chris Smith, should resign, he said that was a matter for Mr. Smith.
Mr. Pickles was called on to help coordinate the flood response after Owen Paterson, the minister responsible for the environment, stood aside last week to have an eye operation. Mr. Paterson had faced criticism over his handling of the floods.
Mr. Cameron's spokesman said there was no difference of opinion between the two ministers following local media reports Mr. Paterson disagreed with Mr. Pickles' assessment of the agency.
Chris Smith, the chairman of the Environment Agency, hit back in a radio interview Monday, saying his staff knew 100 times more about flood management than any politician and he had no intention of resigning.
The center-left Labour Party said it was unbelievable that officials had embarked on a blame game when homes were at risk.
"Instead of blaming officials for their decisions and now turning on each other like ferrets in a sack, ministers must get a grip on this worsening situation," Maria Eagle, the center-left party's spokeswoman on environmental matters, said in a statement.