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Battered Britain awaits more bad weather

By Marie-Louise Gumuchian, CNN
updated 10:48 AM EST, Mon February 10, 2014
People evacuate homes after the River Thames burst its banks on Monday in Datchet, England.
People evacuate homes after the River Thames burst its banks on Monday in Datchet, England.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • More severe flooding forecast in wet and windy Britain
  • Fourteen severe flood warnings issued along River Thames
  • England suffered the wettest January in 248 years
  • Government has come under pressure for its handling of the crisis

London (CNN) -- Thousands of homes are under threat, rail services have been canceled, and soldiers have been called in to boost flood defenses as Britain braces for more devastating rain.

Authorities in the UK spent the weekend battling widespread flooding in the south and west of the country, areas among the hardest hit by heavy storms in Britain, Ireland and northwestern France.

The Environment Agency has issued 14 severe flood warnings along the River Thames in southern England, where it said river levels that were already extremely high were forecast to continue to rise.

Britain has been hit by bad weather since early December, namely powerful gales and torrential downpours, and swaths of southwestern England have been flooded, forcing many out of their homes.

And there is no letup just yet.

"Extreme weather will continue to threaten communities this week, with further severe flooding expected Monday evening into Tuesday along the Thames in Berkshire and Surrey," Paul Leinster, chief executive of the Environment Agency, said in a statement.

"River levels are high across south west, central and southern England and further rain has the potential to cause significant flooding."

Wettest January in 248 years

England suffered the wettest January since 1766, and the Environment Agency said it is also moving toward the wettest winter in 250 years.

Gusts of up to 80 mph, heavy rain and massive waves have made up the latest extreme weather coming from the Atlantic Ocean and driven, meteorologists say, by a long and powerful polar vortex.

Hundreds of people have already been forced out of their homes. And with the ground heavily saturated, any more rain will increase the flood risk across the country.

Soldiers have been deployed to some of the most affected areas to boost flood defenses by filling and stacking sandbags.

Rivers have burst their banks, submerging nearby trees and benches and threatening properties.

'Major Incident'

Alongside the River Thames, some villages saw their main streets already flooded and thousands of homes were under threat.

Some residents paddled canoes or pushed wheelbarrows filled with belongings down residential streets.

"Police have declared the flooding situation in Thames Valley a Major Incident and continue to work with partners to help local communities," Thames Valley police tweeted.

Train connections have also been disrupted as the strong winds and heavy rain have caused flooding, landslides and obstructions on railways.

"At the moment Eastbury and Purley on Thames -- two of several areas which are on flood alert -- they're actually flooded," Peta Stoddart-Crompton, of West Berkshire Council, said.

"We've got the military helping us. We're right in the middle of a crisis. People have had to leave their homes. We have been in an emergency situation for a few days now. We've had our emergency center open."

Government under pressure

The government has come under pressure for its handling of the storms battering Britain.

Parts of some areas have been underwater for more than a month, with angry residents criticizing the government for not doing enough to prevent flooding or not reacting quickly enough to help those affected by the devastation.

Prime Minister David Cameron has announced extra funding for flood defense repairs and maintenance.

"We will keep providing whatever immediate practical support and assistance is needed, whether that is extra pumps and sandbags; military support on the ground; emergency funds from the new £7 million ($11.5 million) severe weather assistance fund for local councils," he said in a statement.

Cameron traveled to some of the affected areas Monday. Another meeting of the government's emergency committee was scheduled for later on Monday.

READ: No letup in bad weather for wet and windy Britain

READ: Record rainfall leaves parts of England under water

CNN's Zahra Ullah and Lucy Pawle contributed to this report.

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