Storm Causes U.K. Rail Havoc as Flooding Forecast to Worsen

Feb 13, 2014 7:07 am ET

(Updates with Environment Agency in third paragraph.)

Feb. 13 (Bloomberg) -- A storm that brought 100 mile-per- hour winds to parts of the U.K. overnight caused havoc for rail commuters as forecasters warned flooding along the River Thames west of London may worsen in coming days.

Floods, fallen trees and downed power lines disrupted trains across England, according to railway operator Network Rail. While the Thames has stabilized in London’s commuter belt, the Environment Agency is warning that further downpours will prolong two months of flooding.

“River levels remain particularly high in the River Thames in Windsor and Maidenhead and Surrey for at least the next three days, as the river reacts to recent and forecast rainfall,” the agency said on its website. “Impacts are expected to include widespread flooding affecting significant numbers of properties and whole communities and significant disruption to travel.”

Thames flooding may rival the worst last century, 67 years ago, the agency says. That’s the result of what is shaping up to be the wettest December to February in 250 years of record- keeping for parts of England. In the southwest, the low-lying Somerset Levels have been underwater since before Christmas.

Last night’s wind left a trail of destruction in northwest England and Wales. A man was electrocuted to death yesterday as he tried to move a tree that brought down a power line.

Power Outages

About 80,000 remained without power this morning after 145,000 customers were reconnected, the Energy Networks Association said today on Twitter. “Winds and blocked roads are hampering repairs,” it said.

In Ireland, hurricane-force winds caused damage that left more than 250,000 customers without electricity at one point. About 170,000 homes and businesses remained cut off this morning, according to Ireland’s Electricity Supply Board.

Storms from the Atlantic have brought record rains and tidal surges to Britain since early December, flooding at least 5,800 properties and disrupting road and rail travel. Prime Minister David Cameron pledged this week that money will be no object in tackling the effects of the flooding.

The Environment Agency estimates 1,135 homes have flooded in the Thames Valley since Jan. 29, with most still inundated. Levels are subsiding in commuter towns and villages including Laleham, Staines, Horton, Wraysbury, Old Windsor, Datchet, it said. At Chertsey, Shepperton Green and Hamm Court, waters remain ‘high but stable,’’ according to the agency’s website.

‘Widespread’ Damage

“The river levels will remain very high and responsive to further rainfall in the coming days,” it said. “Widespread property flooding and disruption to local infrastructure is taking place.”

The Met Office recorded gusts of up to 108 miles (174 kilometers) per hour in north Wales. At Crewe railway station in northwest England, a section of roof was blown off, landing on power lines, according to Cheshire Fire Service, which also reported fallen trees and collapsed buildings on its website.

“It was very frightening,” Josie Havelock, landlady of the Station Inn in Porthmadog, northwest Wales, where a section of roof blew off, told the British Broadcasting Corp. “Fifty years I’ve been here and I’ve never seen anything like this.”

The Met Office weather service forecasts rain for four of the next five days for both London and the town of Bridgwater on the edge of the inundated Somerset Levels. Light rains today are expected to strengthen tomorrow and on Saturday, with the office issuing a yellow warning, the third-highest degree of threat, for southern England and Wales from tomorrow morning.

Flood Warnings

“With very wet ground conditions in Wales and the south of England and following repeated heavy rainfall events earlier in the week, the public should be aware of the potential for further flooding in places,” it said. “The impacts from this rainfall may continue on some rivers on subsequent days.”

The Environment Agency has 14 severe flood warnings along the Thames and two in Somerset in southwest England, indicating flooding is taking place. Another 133 warnings that inundations are expected have also been issued, along with 233 alerts that flooding is possible.

Trains have resumed on the main west-coast line between Liverpool and Crewe after earlier cancellations because of overhead wire damage, according to the National Rail Enquiries website. Services between northern towns and cities including Manchester, Sheffield, Preston, Lancaster and Blackpool are suffering delays and diversions, it said. In Wales, bus services replaced trains on some lines while authorities clear tracks.

--With assistance from Thomas Penny and Eddie Buckle in London. Editors: Will Kennedy, Tony Barrett