Somerset flood delay a 'tragedy', says Prince Charles

media captionPrince Charles travelled to the flood-hit village of Muchelney by boat

The Prince of Wales has met residents and farmers in the flood-hit Somerset Levels and said it was a "tragedy" that nothing had happened for so long.

Thousands of hectares of land remain under water in the area, where whole villages have been cut off for weeks.

Residents have expressed anger at the pace at which the Environment Agency and the government have responded.

Strong winds and rain have again hit Cornwall and Devon with about 14,000 homes affected by power cuts.

Western Power says its repairs are being hampered by the stormy conditions.

About 1,300 customers in west, south and mid-Wales are also without power.


Devon and Cornwall Police said it had received more than 65 reports of fallen trees.

Fire crews have responded as high winds brought down trees and damaged buildings across south and west Wales.

The A465 Heads Of The Valleys road was closed at the Hirwaun roundabout after a number of vehicles were reported to have hit a fallen tree.

Three severe flood warnings - meaning there is a danger to life - have been issued by the Environment Agency for Weymouth, Lyme Regis Harbour and West Bay Harbour in Dorset. The warnings will remain in force until after high tide at 10:00 GMT on Wednesday.

"Very strong winds and high waves are expected along the Dorset coast overnight and on Wednesday morning," the Environment Agency says.

The Met Office has issued a number of yellow warnings, meaning "be aware".

It said the heavy rain and gusts of 60-70 mph currently affecting the South West would spread into south-western Wales and some eastern parts of Northern Ireland overnight. Between 10 and 20mm of rain is predicted.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency has seven flood alerts in place, meaning flooding is possible.

Meanwhile, train companies have warned that services may be cancelled or delayed because of the stormy weather.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionThe Prince of Wales was taken to areas cut off by the flood in a boat
image copyrightPA
image captionThe Prince of Wales posed for photographs with residents on his arrival in Somerset
image copyrightGetty Images
image captionPrince Charles was then taken on a tractor trailer through flooded roads to visit a farm
image copyrightPA
image captionPumps are still active at Burrowbridge on the Somerset Levels
image copyrightPA
image captionRiver levels remain high in other areas including Old Windsor, Berkshire
image captionIn Cornwall, the local authority estimates storms have caused more than £4m of damage in the last month

Southeastern said Network Rail had put in place a 40mph speed restriction across parts of its network between 23:00 GMT and Wednesday evening.

South West Trains said it may be necessary to impose a speed restriction of 50mph on certain routes between 10:00 and 19:00 GMT on Wednesday.

Repairs on a section of storm-damaged coastal railway line in Devon have been halted because of safety concerns. Network Rail said it was withdrawing all staff working on the track at Dawlish.

'Feels sorry'

Speaking during his visit to Somerset, the Prince of Wales said: "There's nothing like a jolly good disaster to get people to start doing something. The tragedy is that nothing happened for so long."

Many residents have said there has been a slow response from the authorities to the flooding, which has affected many parts of the Somerset Levels since the end of December.

Some have also suggested that a lack of river dredging by the Environment Agency could have exacerbated the scale of the flooding.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson - who visited the area last week - was harangued by some residents about the "Third World" conditions they were living in.

The Prince of Wales also said during his visit that he "feels very sorry for all the people affected by the flooding".

Asked to respond to the Prince's comments, David Cameron's official spokesman said: "The prime minister has repeatedly said... that the situation that a number of communities in the Somerset area find themselves in is unacceptable.

"That is why the government is working so closely with the Environment Agency, the local authority and other agencies to do as much as we can to help those communities."

Another band of rain is expected to arrive from the south on Thursday, adds the Met Office.

The number of flood warnings - meaning flooding is expected - has been rising through the day. It now stands at more than 60 - most of them in the Midlands, south-east and south-west of England.

There are also more than 200 flood alerts across England and Wales.

The Prince of Wales visited the Somerset Levels as patron of the Prince's Countryside Fund, which allocates grants to rural projects and for help in emergencies.

He arrived shortly after noon and spoke to people at Williams Hall in Stoke St Gregory before touring the area.

Prince Charles was taken to the village of Muchelney by boat and later climbed on to a tractor-towed trailer for a journey along flooded roads to a farm in Thorney.

The Prince's Countryside Fund is donating £50,000 to help the region. It has allocated £25,000 to the Farming Help Partnership, with the remainder given to the Somerset Community Foundation.

Earlier, Environment Agency chairman Lord Smith told the BBC dredging of river channels was part of the answer for Somerset but a comprehensive solution was needed.

He said one option in future was to try to hold back water further up the catchment to prevent so much reaching the Levels, which lie below sea level.

media captionEnvironment Agency chairman Lord Smith: ''Our top priority is making sure that we save human lives''

But Lord Smith reiterated there was not a limitless amount of money available for tackling floods.

"Most people would say lives come first, and homes and businesses have to come after that," he said.

On Monday, the government announced an additional £300,000 of funding on top of financial support already available to local authorities to repair bridges and roads, bringing its total cash support to £7m.

The Environment Agency has opened a cheaper helpline for flooding victims in England after complaints that callers were being charged up to 41p a minute to ring the existing number when using a mobile phone, with the money going to a private company.

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