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Britain sends in more troops as historic city floods

Monday, December 28, 2015 - 06:46
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Britain's government dispatched more troops on Sunday to tackle "unprecedented" flooding in northern England which has forced hundreds to flee their homes, including in the historic tourist city of York.

[YORK] Britain's government dispatched more troops on Sunday to tackle "unprecedented" flooding in northern England which has forced hundreds to flee their homes, including in the historic tourist city of York.

Prime Minister David Cameron made the announcement after hosting a conference call of the emergency COBRA committee on the floods, which have caused chaos during the post-Christmas holiday period.

Cameron was expected to tour the affected areas on Monday, British media reported, as rivers across the region burst their banks and emergency workers paddled in dinghies to save stranded residents.

The industrial cities of Leeds and Manchester and towns and villages around them have also been hit by flooding, as well as Lancashire in northwest England.

An extra 200 soldiers are being sent in to work with the 300 already on the ground, aiding hundreds of rescuers and volunteers who have been on high alert since Christmas Day due to heavy rain forecasts.

"A further 1,000 military personnel are being held in reserve should the situation worsen," Cameron's Downing Street office said in a statement, calling the flooding an "unprecedented event".

Over 200 flood warnings and alerts are in place in England and Wales, 24 of them severe, signalling a risk to life and forecasters say water levels could rise into Monday before receding later in the week.

"Hardly a river in Nrth Eng (Northern England) not covered by flood warning or alert - many river level records likely broken," tweeted John Curtin, in charge of flood management at the Environment Agency.

Highlighting the scale of the emergency, Tim Peake, who is the first British astronaut on the International Space Station, wrote on Twitter: "Passed over the UK today - thoughts are with all those affected by flooding in northern England." Some 3,500 properties in York are at risk of flooding and special centres have been set up to shelter hundreds residents who have left their homes.

Others took to the higher floors of their houses to avoid the water pouring into front rooms still adorned with Christmas decorations.

Floodwater in some streets almost totally submerged parked cars and came up so high that only shop signs could be seen above the surface in some areas.

In St Mary's churchyard in the town of Tadcaster, the water submerged ancient cemetery headstones and in Bury a 200-year-old pub was almost entirely destroyed.

With its cobbled streets and timbered buildings, York is one of Britain's top tourist attractions.

It has a rich history dating back to Roman times and is home to one of Europe's finest cathedrals, which is about 800 years old.

The Archbishop of York John Sentamu said flood waters were coming into his residence, Bishopthorpe Palace.

"Let's stand with all those flooded today - in prayer, support, and action," he tweeted.

York city council also tweeted that all its phone lines were down "due to flood water in the exchange".

More than 7,500 homes in Greater Manchester and Lancashire were also without electricity due to flood damage.

In the town of Rochdale near Manchester, the local power company asked residents were asked to turn off their Christmas lights to save electricity.

AFP