HotSpots H2O: Government Response Criticized as Third Storm Deluges the United Kingdom

Flooding in Dumfries, United Kingdom. Photo courtesy of Flickr/Rainbow International.

Last month was the wettest February ever recorded in the United Kingdom, and more rain is expected over the next week, warns the country’s Met Office. Torrential rainfall flooded hundreds of homes, and many residents are frustrated at the government’s lack of response. 

Averaged across the country, more than 202 millimeters (8 inches) of rain fell last month, exceeding the previous February record of 193.4 millimeters (7.6 inches). The outburst is largely linked to a string of severe windstorms over the past month, starting with Storm Ciara in early February, then Storm Dennis a few weeks later. Now Storm Jorge is bringing a third round of rains to the swamped nation. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s response to the flooding has drawn criticism, with members of the opposing Labour party calling it a “disgrace” that Johnson is not visiting flood-hit communities. Johnson also faced disapproval over his response to flooding in northern England last year. 

George Eustice, the UK’s new environment secretary, argued that the government is responding adequately to the crisis, and that new flood-defense infrastructure installed over the past year has protected more than 200,000 properties

“The government has a firm grip on this,” Eustice said in an interview with Sky News. “It’s a very difficult situation, with widespread flood alerts, but our flood defenses are working as intended.”

At one point, more than 200 flood alerts were in place across the UK, including several severe or “danger to life” warnings. Fifteen rivers across England’s Midlands, Yorkshire, and Lancashire have reached their highest levels ever recorded, and an estimated 3,300 English homes have been flooded. Several hundred homes in Wales were inundated as well. 

Over the past week, conditions became so intense along the River Severn that emergency evacuations took place in the towns of Ironbridge, Shropshire, and Worcestershire. Crews are rushing to repair flood defenses in those towns, as well as others, before Storm Jorge brings another round of heavy rainfall. 

In Wales, the effects of Storm Jorge are already being felt, leaving residents terrified. Some are moving into evacuation centers, while others, like Florence Heritage, are opting to stay home for the time being. 

“We stayed here last night,” Florence Heritage, a 28-year-old resident of Pontypridd, Wales, told The Guardian. “I’m pregnant and I’ve got a four-year-old. I was in a massive panic. The whole town was in a massive panic. We were literally a foot away from the river bursting its banks again.” 

Heritage’s home was already flooded two weeks ago, and she expressed frustration at the lack of aid from the local council. The Welsh government has pledged at least £500 ($647) to every flood-affected home, plus an additional £500 to any household without flood insurance. Heritage and other residents, however, fear that this may not be enough to help them get back on their feet quickly–especially if flooding continues to occur. 

The government has also committed to spending £4 billion ($5.2 billion) on flood defenses over the next five years, although experts warn that this likely won’t be enough to mitigate the effects of climate change.

In the meantime, rainfall from Storm Jorge is moving across the country, with another week of “difficult conditions” predicted.

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