British princes help flood victims as new storm hits 15 февраля 2014, 10:24
Britain's Prince William (C), Duke of Cambridge, and Prince Harry. ©Reuters/Paul Hackett
Britain's Princes William and Harry pitched in to help flood victims Friday as a new winter storm barrelled into the country, causing fresh misery after the wettest start to the year for 250 years, AFP reports.
The princes joined soldiers distributing sandbags to protect properties in the flood-hit village of Datchet, near London, in the shadow of their grandmother Queen Elizabeth II's Windsor Castle residence.
The Met Office said a "multi-pronged attack" of wind, rain and snow was sweeping across the country after making landfall in southwest England with winds of nearly 80 mph (128 kph).
It said up to 40 mm (1.6 ins) of rain could fall and warned of more huge waves and a tidal surge on the south coast of England, where earlier storms wiped out a railway line and damaged historic cliff features.
The swollen River Thames was expected to reach its highest level for 60 years at the weekend.
The country's embattled Environment Agency meanwhile warned that the flood risk would continue for at least another week.
About 17,000 people remained without power in Wales following an earlier storm on Wednesday when hurricane-force gales left one person dead.
Prime Minister David Cameron reiterated his promise to do "whatever it takes" to help stricken communities, following criticism of the government's initial response to the crisis.
He has said money was "no object", offering financial support for businesses and homeowners.
"Obviously, we are facing a very difficult time because we have got the wettest start to the year for 250 years and these are extraordinary weather events, but we are fighting on every front to help people," he told ITV television.
More than 2,000 army, navy and air force personnel have now been deployed across Britain to help flood-hit communities, and 70 percent of England's fire and rescue services are working on the storm effort.
Tornado attack jets and Sentinel surveillance planes have flown missions over deluged areas, using optical and radar imaging to help civilian authorities coordinate their response, the Ministry of Defence said.
Dutch government helps out
In the Thames-side village of Datchet, second-in-line to the throne Prince William and his younger brother Harry donned Wellington boots and waterproofs as they lugged sandbags alongside members of the Household Cavalry.
"The Duke (of Cambridge) and Prince Harry wanted to show their support to the flood victims and thought the most appropriate way of doing that was through the armed forces relief effort," a Kensington Palace spokeswoman told AFP.
Buckingham Palace meanwhile said the queen was helping farmers in the southwestern county of Somerset -- parts of which have been underwater for nearly two months -- by contributing feed and bedding from the royal farms at Windsor.
Not everyone was pitching in, however. Police said some residents in Portsmouth, on the south coast, received hoax calls on Friday urging them to evacuate because of impending flooding -- presumably from would-be burglars.
A total of 24 severe flood alerts indicating a risk to life are in place across Britain: the majority in the southeast, west of London, with another eight in the southwest and one in central England.
More than 5,800 properties have been flooded since early December while huge swathes of farmland have been inundated.
Floodwaters were also rising in the cathedral city of Winchester and market town of Romsey in southern England, although waters that threatened the historic city of Worcester in central England receded slightly.
Wildlife was also at risk. Badgers could suffer from the flooding, particularly in parts of the southwest where a government-sanctioned cull got under way last year, an animal charity warned.
Cameron has said he will seek financial aid from the European Union to cope with the floods, despite his promises to renegotiate London's relationship with Brussels and hold an in-out referendum.
Britain has already borrowed eight "very high volume pumps" from the Dutch government and several Dutch engineers are helping in Somerset, a spokeswoman for the enviroment ministry said.
Britain also faces an economic battering after Bank of England governor Mark Carney said the fragile recovery from recession would be affected as the bad weather hits farming and transport.