One dead as storms batter flooded Britain
Author: Michael Holden
One man was killed and thousands left without power as storms and high winds battered Britain, bringing more misery to already flooded areas and causing widespread travel chaos on Thursday.
Gusts of more than 100 miles per hour (160 km per hour) lashed western England and Wales overnight, Britain's Met Office said, while severe flood warnings remained in place for much of the south and west of Britain.
A man in his 70s died in a suspected electrocution after a tree brought down cables in Wiltshire, police said. The Energy Networks Association, which represents energy companies, reported that some 80,000 customers were still without power.
Parts of southwest England have been under water for weeks after heavy rain in February followed the wettest January in nearly 250 years. More recently, areas around the River Thames to the west of London, along an important economic corridor, have been inundated.
The government, which has been criticized for reacting too slowly to the floods, has promised to spend whatever is needed on the relief effort.
But opposition Labour party members of parliament on Thursday accused the government of rehashing old announcements on funding to repair and reinforce transport infrastructure and presenting them as new money.
Transport Minister Patrick McLoughlin said the question of applying for cash from the EU Solidarity Fund had been discussed at Wednesday's meeting of the government emergency committee.
"The minister for the cabinet office is actually looking at all the avenues that are available to us to collect any money that we may be able to," he said in parliament.
During a radio phone-in, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg reiterated the government's view that it does not need to divert money from the foreign aid budget to help flood-hit communities, after more than 170,000 people signed a petition being run by the Daily Mail newspaper urging it to do so.
Economic analysts at PwC and Deloitte say insurers could face a bill of around 500 million pounds ($830 million) for the flood damage, with more than 5,600 homes affected since early December.
Emergency services said they had rescued more than 850 people from their homes along the Thames in Surrey, with the river in some places at its highest level for more than 60 years.
The severe weather, which the army officer leading the flood recovery efforts described as "an almost unparalleled natural crisis" for Britain, has led to major travel disruption. Motorways and bridges have been closed, and many rail services cancelled.
Meteorologist Charlie Powell said conditions were expected to improve on Thursday, but more "wet and breezy" weather was expected at the weekend.
"I don't think it's going to cause as much impact as we have seen," he said.
(Reporting by Michael Holden, Kylie MacLellan and William James; Editing by Kevin Liffey)