(Updates with transport secretary in seventh paragraph.)
Feb. 12 (Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister David Cameron said money’s “no object” in tackling the effects of flooding across southern England, as he called off a trip to the Middle East next week to concentrate on the crisis.
Waterlogged towns on the River Thames west of London are braced for more flooding, with the Met Office weather service forecasting rain and gales today. Six hundred military personnel are helping in flood-hit areas. Deloitte LLP signaled insurance costs may reach 1 billion pounds ($1.6 billion) by April.
“There’s no sign of this threat abating,” Cameron said yesterday at his first press briefing at his Downing Street office in 11 months. “Money is no object in this relief effort. Whatever money is needed for it will be spent. We will take whatever steps are necessary.”
Cameron was speaking after floods inundated commuter towns and villages including Wraysbury, Datchet and Chertsey. Swaths of Somerset in southwest England, as well as parts of Oxford and Worcester, are under water. The premier visited Dawlish and Taunton in the southwest as well as Staines on the Thames yesterday to meet residents, businesses and emergency services.
An additional 3 centimeters (1.2 inches) of rain may fall on parts of Wales and southwest England today, the Met Office said on its website. Wind gusts of as much as 90 miles (145 kilometers) an hour may also sweep through some areas, it said.
The prime minister’s pledge of unlimited cash for the relief effort didn’t extend to funding for flood defenses. Chris Smith, the chairman of the Environment Agency, one of whose main jobs is flood prevention, has said in recent days that the government’s austerity program had reduced his team’s ability to prevent the inundations.
Speaking to ITV’s Daybreak program, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “I don’t think it’s a blank check. I think what the prime minister was making very clear is that we’re going to use every resource of the government and that actually money is not the issue at the moment while we’re in this relief job in the first instance, of trying to bring relief to those communities that are affected.”
The agency has 16 severe flood warnings in place, 14 of them along the Thames and two in Somerset, according to its website. Those signify a danger to life.
Cameron praised the work done by the Environment Agency, following criticism by some politicians, including Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.
“Now is not the time for resignations and all the rest of it, now is the time to get on with the job,” Cameron said. The agency’s staff have done “an extraordinarily good job,” he said, sidestepping questions about Smith’s future as chairman.
About 5,800 properties have flooded since the beginning of December amid a succession of storms, the Environment Agency said yesterday in a statement.
“Stormy weather will continue to threaten communities this week, with further flooding expected along the Thames in Berkshire and Surrey,” said Paul Leinster, the agency’s chief executive officer. “River levels are high across southwest, central and southern England.”
The Association of British Insurers has estimated costs through Jan. 8 totaling 426 million pounds, relating to 174,000 claims. An ABI official said yesterday the industry group won’t update that forecast until the current floods have subsided. Deloitte said property damage will raise costs for insurers, while premiums may see “modest increases.”
“If we get continued rain and storms through the months of February and March, we could easily see a figure of a billion pounds for the industry,” James Rakow, an insurance partner at Deloitte, said on Bloomberg Television’s “Countdown.”
Cameron pledged to “go after” insurance companies that do not pay out on claims in a timely fashion.
The prime minister apologized to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for calling off a two-day visit scheduled for next week.
Rains across the U.K. have been swelled by what the Met Office says is a persistent track of storms related to an unusually strong North Atlantic jetstream that typically flows farther north.
Groundwater levels in some parts of the U.K. will probably keep rising even without more rain, the BBC reported yesterday, citing the British Geological Survey. Waters may keep climbing for months because the soil is already so saturated, BGS scientist Andy McKenzie told the broadcaster.
In addition to the 16 severe flood warnings, the Environment Agency also issued 122 flood warnings, signaling flooding is expected, and 225 alerts that floods are possible.
Total rainfall for December and January across southeast and central southern England was 372.2 millimeters, the wettest such period since detailed data was first published in 1910, according to the Met Office. The January total for the region was the highest in data stretching to 1766, the office said.
“I still think climate change is a serious threat,” Cameron said. “We face the challenges of extreme weather. Whether you think this is linked to climate change or whether you don’t, we will have to deal with these problems.”
--With assistance from Brian Swint, Mark Barton, Anna Edwards and Alex Morales in London. Editors: Eddie Buckle, Alan Crawford