Britain needs ‘rethink’ on flood defense after swathes of England hit

Image: Walm Gate Street in York’s city centre lies under under flood waters, in northern England, December 28, 2015. REUTERS/Andrew Yates

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain needs a ‘complete rethink’ of its flood defenses after towns, cities and countryside across northern England were inundated when rivers broke their banks in recent days, a government agency said on Monday.

Hundreds of soldiers have been deployed to evacuate residents and help emergency services. Local authorities said around 500 properties were flooded in the historic city of York, and 2,000 homes and 400 businesses in Leeds.

Flood defenses have been bolstered in recent years, but that has not been enough to prevent some residents of northern England, including the scenic Lake District, from having their homes flooded time and again this month.

“We are moving from known extremes to unknown extremes,” David Rooke, deputy chief executive of the Environment Agency, which handles the government’s flood response, told BBC radio.

“We will need to have a complete rethink and I think we need to move from not just providing better defenses (…) but looking at increasing resilience.”

Prime Minister David Cameron defended the government’s record on flood defenses during a visit to York, saying it had committed to spend 2.3 billion pounds ($3.4 billion) over the next six years, and he would consider doing more.

“Let’s have a look and see whether more needs to be done and whether the flood defenses need to made even higher than they are already, and that’s exactly what we’ll look at,” he told Sky News.

There was a lull in the heavy rain on Monday, and the Environment Agency said river levels were stabilizing or starting to fall.

But nine severe flood warnings, which indicate a danger to life, remained in place, and further rain was expected on Wednesday on already saturated ground, the government said.

Regional power supplier Electricity North West said it had restored supplies to 24,750 homes since Saturday, but around 1,200 customers in the northwestern city of Manchester were still cut off.

(Reporting by Paul Sandle; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

Copyright 2015 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.

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