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In Britain, Deluge Shows No Signs Of Slowing


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block. Great Britain is known for its soggy weather, yet this winter has defied even Britain's damp expectations. Storms over Christmas led into the rainiest January on record. Now, some parts of England have been under water for more than a month and the forecasts aren't getting better. NPR's Ari Shapiro reports from London.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: The Somerset Levels is a swath of farmland in the west of England. Philippa Hawks from the town of Burrowbridge says the area is used to flooding, but she's never seen anything like this.

PHILIPPA HAWKS: We lose the main road on a very regular basis, but we don't usually lose the side roads. So it is pretty horrific.

SHAPIRO: And it's not just the amount of water. It's the duration. It's been more than six weeks since the first bit storms moved in and some people have been getting to their homes by canoe ever since. Sue Tyler-Moore says neighbors have been doing their best to help each other.

SUE TYLER-MOORE: Well, for the last few weeks, we've had, obviously, the water encroaching all the time, but the last few days, it's absolutely dire. Absolutely dire. There are so many people that are really struggling with this and it's heartbreaking to see it.

SHAPIRO: And the water just keeps spreading. Last week, the highest waves ever recorded in Britain crashed against the southwest coast. They uprooted chunks of train tracks connecting the entire county of Cornwall to the rest of England. Even when the water is gone, the damage will remain, says Kevin Ward (ph). He's with Britain's Environment Agency.

KEVIN WARD: We've got damage to the railway tram. We've got damage to the sea wall. This is going to take a lot of time to repair it and to get things back to normal.

SHAPIRO: Today, there are yet more flood warnings covering a 15-mile stretch of the Thames River. Jackie Smith has lived in her home near Windsor for more than 30 years.

JACKIE SMITH: I was quite shocked when I saw the army arriving in droves and sandbags going up everywhere and building a wall to protect us from the river. The natural flood plain is actually the other side of the river. But when you look across there now, it's already a lake. So I expect it's just that they just don't know which way it's going to go next.

SHAPIRO: Most of the country's major political figures have visited the flood zones, including Prime Minister David Cameron who, today, defended his government's response.

PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON: They do an amazing job, the staff of the Environment Agency and they deserve our support and our thanks. I'm only interested in one thing and that is making sure that everything the government can do is being done and will go on being done to help people through this difficult time.

SHAPIRO: That doesn't satisfy people like Tim Holmes. He's been organizing his community to fill sand bags and distribute them with less help from the government than he would like.

TIM HOLMES: Everyone is feeling let down, disappointed and angry because we've had David Cameron and all these politicians come in and they've come in in the last couple of weeks. Well, there's no good coming in now because there's nothing they can do.

SHAPIRO: Members of parliament have been even more aggressive in their attacks. Today, Environment Minister Chris Smith defended himself in the Guardian newspaper saying that even though some 5,000 houses have been flooded, more than a million homes have been spared from the waters by his agency. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.