U.K. Storm Kills Two in South England as Further Floods Seen

Feb 15, 2014 8:43 am ET

(Updates with power in first paragraph, areas in third, warnings in sixth, insurers in seventh, France in ninth.)

Feb. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Two people died and thousands were left without power as the latest storm to hit the U.K. brought gales and heavy rain that has prolonged the risk of flooding in southern England into the coming week.

A woman was killed in London when part of a building collapsed onto a car, police said. A cruise ship passenger died in the English Channel after the vessel was hit by a wave whipped up by winds of 80 miles (129 kilometers) per hour, the Press Association said. Engineers are working to restore power to about 86,500 customers in central-southern England, Scottish and Southern Energy Power Distribution said on its website.

Hundreds of homes in commuter-belt towns along the River Thames west of London were already flooded and areas of Somerset in southwestern England have been submerged since before Christmas. Water levels have reached their highest in more than 60 years, according to the Environment Agency. The Thames poses a high risk of flooding for at least three more days in Windsor, Maidenhead and Surrey, the agency said today.

“We’re facing a very difficult time because we’ve got the wettest start to a year for 250 years,” Prime Minister David Cameron told ITV News yesterday from Blackpool in northwestern England, which has also been battered by storms. “We are fighting on every front.”

A succession of storms since the beginning of December has brought record rainfall to parts of England, inundating at least 5,800 homes, bringing chaos to rail travel and battering the shoreline with the biggest coastal surges in decades.

Flood Warnings

Seventeen severe flood warnings, indicating a danger to life, were in effect as of noon local time today, according to the agency website. There were a further 158 warnings that inundations are expected and 282 alerts that they’re possible.

December to February is shaping up to be the worst winter for rain in parts of England since records began in 1776. The cost to U.K. insurers may exceed 3 billion pounds ($5 billion), the Financial Times reported today, citing insurance executives.

As of noon, 344 flights into and out of London’s Heathrow airport had been delayed and 45 were canceled, said FlightAware, a Houston-based tracking service.

The effects of the storm were also felt in France, where about 115,000 households in the Brittany region lost power overnight, Agence France-Presse reported, citing electricity distribution network ERDF. Winds of over 100 kilometers an hour hit the country’s western coast overnight.

The main train line to the city of Brest, in western Brittany, remained closed today after being blocked by fallen trees and downed power lines, SNCF spokesman Michel Pronost said by telephone.

Moving Offshore

The storm system is moving into the North Sea and weakening, the U.K.’s Met Office weather service said after it had forecast winds as high as 80 mph and 4 centimeters (1.6 inches) in parts of the southwest and south Wales. There will be some rain, heavy in a few areas, as well as strong winds, though conditions will improve throughout today with a “much more pleasant day” expected tomorrow, it said.

London’s Metropolitan Police said the building that collapsed last night near Holborn Tube Station left a 49-year- old woman dead.

“Two occupants were sat in the rear of the car,” the police said in an e-mailed statement. “A 25-year-old man and a 24-year-old woman have been taken to hospital. They are in non- life-threatening conditions.”

An 85-year-old man died yesterday after the Marco Polo cruise ship was hit by a wave in the English Channel, according to PA. Water crashed through a window, injuring several people, the news agency said.

Restaurant Rescue

In Hampshire, on England’s south coast, more than 30 people had to be rescued by emergency services and the army from a seafront restaurant after wind-blown gravel shattered windows and the sea flooded in, PA reported.

Thousands of households lost electricity after a storm three days ago ripped up power lines, trees and roofs. Almost 42,000 customers were without power across Wales and southern England, the Energy Networks Association said in a Twitter post late yesterday.

The Environment Agency estimated yesterday that 1,135 homes have been flooded in the Thames Valley to the west of London since Jan. 29. The agency ordered temporary defenses from Sweden and the Netherlands. Yesterday it was putting up barrages in Chertsey and Staines, having worked on Feb. 13 to protect the southern cathedral city of Winchester from the rising River Itchen.

--With assistance from Carol Matlack in Paris and Lynn Doan in San Francisco. Editors: Jurjen van de Pol, Heather Langan