London: After the misery and chaos caused by torrential rain and flooding, authorities have warned people to be prepared for potentially dangerous cold temperatures and treacherous ice.
New weather warnings for England were issued on Sunday as flood-hit communities continued to mop up from the effects of Storm Henk.
An amber cold weather alert, which is in place until noon on Friday, was issued by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA). It covers the north-west of England, West Midlands, east Midlands and south-west England.
A yellow cold weather alert is in place for the remainder of England.
Cold weather alerts are part of a new system introduced for England that went live in November. A yellow alert is for elderly and vulnerable people while an amber alert means the impact of the cold weather is likely to be “felt across the whole health service for an extended period of time, with potential for the whole population to be at risk”.
Dr Agostinho Sousa, head of extreme events and health protection at UKHSA, urged people to check in on the wellbeing of those most vulnerable to the cold.
“If you have a pre-existing medical condition or are over the age of 65 it is important to try to heat the rooms where you spend most of your time, such as your living room or bedroom, in the coming days,” he said.
The cold weather warnings coincided with a yellow weather warning issued on Sunday by the Met Office.
That begins at 4am Monday and covers parts of south London, Kent, Surrey and East and West Sussex and warns of sleet and snow showers moving in from the east with temperatures close to zero.
Rail journeys could be affected and icy patches are likely on untreated pavements and roads, the Met Office said.
The new warnings come as householders and businesses mop up after the latest flooding, with the Environment Agency estimating that more than 1,800 properties have been flooded.
At 3pm on Sunday in England there were 167 flood warnings in place signifying expected flooding, and 171 flood alerts, which warn of possible flooding. In Wales there was one flood warning, referring to the River Ritec in Tenby, and four flood alerts.
The agency said the impact of flooding was expected to continue in the Midlands, Lincolnshire and on the River Thames until Monday.
Overall, the risks brought by the Henk flooding were going down this weekend, the agency said. But it warned: “Many rivers are elevated and will remain so for several days.”
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Katharine Smith, a flood duty manager at the Environment Agency, said significant river flooding impacts were expected this weekend “across parts of the River Thames in Oxfordshire as well as the River Trent near Nottingham, and the River Severn, including Gloucester.”
She added: “The prolonged wet weather and intense rainfall has led to flooding impacts and our thoughts are with all of those affected.”
The government’s response to the flooding has sparked a political row, with Labour accusing Rishi Sunak of being “asleep at the wheel”.
The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, has promised a taskforce to make sure flood defences are in the right places and fit for purpose. “People’s lives shouldn’t be upended by extreme rain,” he said.
The prime minister visited Oxford on Sunday to see the impact on people there, his first trip to a flooding zone since the floods began on Wednesday.
He defended the government’s response to the emergency, saying: “We have over 1,000 Environment Agency personnel on the ground in local communities helping, over 200 pumps have been deployed.
“We’ve invested £5.2bn in flood defences over the period in question – that’s a record sum … that’s contributed to protecting over 300,000 homes.
“And of course, there have been many people affected by what’s happened over the past week, but also over 49,000 have been affected by flooding.”
On Saturday the communities secretary, Michael Gove, and the environment secretary, Steve Barclay, announced that communities hit by flooding from Storm Henk could apply for financial recovery help.
They said a “flood recovery framework” was being activated. Flood-hit households would be able to apply for up to £500 and small- to medium-sized businesses could apply for up to £2,500.