Homes evacuated as floodwaters rise in England

LONDON - Around 140 homes were evacuated in southwest England on Friday as floodwaters rose, while the head of a government agency was set to face a hostile reception on his first visit to the region.

Areas flooded for five weeks were set to endure more misery as heavy rain was forecast to fall on parts of Britain during the day. Environment Agency chief Chris Smith was to visit one of the worst-hit areas, the Somerset Levels, in southwest England, where many residents say his organisation's response has been ineffective and has led to "devastation".

Royal Marines were sent into flooded areas for the first time on Thursday and helped to evacuate 140 properties in the village of Moorland, after local flood defences were breached following another night of heavy rain, the Ministry of Defence said.

The water in Moorland rose by around one metre (3.3 feet) overnight.

The Marines used two all-terrain Pinzgauer vehicles to carry residents to safety. Despite warnings from the police to leave the area, a handful of residents refused to desert their homes.

Jan MacEacharn said she had decided to stay because water had not yet entered her house and she had a horse, cats and dogs that she could not abandon.

"Everybody in this village is in absolute devastation," she told BBC TV. "There's not a single person in this village that has got their home left." Julian Taylor, who moved into a holiday cottage after being evacuated on Wednesday, said: "It's pretty disastrous. You're leaving your property, you're leaving everything you have. You don't know what the future is.

"You couldn't live in a house with nine inches of water on the bottom floor."

Prime Minister David Cameron's government has faced criticism for its handling of a crisis that has left swathes of the country under water, with a key railway line washed away.

The main train line from southwest England to London has been cut off after it was badly damaged by waves in the coastal town of Dawlish this week. It could take weeks to repair.

Residents' anger at government

High waves that have battered the coast of the southwest counties of Dorset, Devon and Cornwall were expected to be whipped up again at the weekend.

Smith, the Environment Agency chief, was expected to face criticism in Somerset about the lack of dredging of rivers, which many Somerset residents blame for the flooding.

Farmer Carol Atyeo told AFP in the deluged Somerset village of Fordgate on Thursday that water was about to overflow from the ditch beside her property and into her house. "If the rivers could take the water away faster it wouldn't affect the properties," she said.

"And with global warming, as well as heavy rain - torrential this year - it's shown that the rivers need to be dredged. They're only running at about 40 percent capacity."

The government said on Thursday it would make an extra £30 million ($48 million, 36 million euros) available for emergency repairs, on top of £100 million already announced by Cameron.

The rainy winter has set records tumbling, being the wettest combined period for December and January across the United Kingdom since 1910, the Met Office has said.

For England alone it was the wettest December to January since 1876-1877 and the second wettest since rainfall records began in 1766.

Meanwhile, in France salvage teams and a coastguard anti-pollution squad were poised to start pumping fuel out of a Spanish cargo ship which has broken into three sections after a spectacular shipwreck in storms.

The teams working near the southwest port of Bayonne face a race against time as new storms were forecast to hit the Atlantic coast at the weekend.