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London (AFP) Feb 16, 2014
Britain's flooding crisis eased on Sunday with the arrival of drier weather following a series of fierce storms, while the government pledged to have the army conduct a rapid inspection of flood defences.
The country is counting the cost of storms that have claimed several lives and left tens of thousands of homes without power.
Despite the drier weather conditions, swathes of Britain remain on high alert as people struggle to protect homes from floodwaters, which are still expected to rise.
Britain's Environment Agency (EA) has 16 severe flood warnings in place for the south west and the Thames Valley, with almost 150 flood warnings and 230 flood alerts.
"The response that we are delivering is a proper response... but we are dealing with an extraordinary set of weather events. It has taken some time to mobilise the resources," Defence Minister Philip Hammond told the BBC on Sunday.
He admitted that the government could have called on the army to assist much earlier.
Hammond said more than 3,000 troops were currently deployed to help, with another 5,000 on standby.
"We offered troops quite a long while ago to civil authorities who wanted them," he added.
"What we have done over the last ten days is push them a bit more aggressively, those civil authorities."
He added that the Royal Engineers would be involved to do a "very rapid inspection of all the nation's flood defences".
"We are going to try and do in five weeks what would be a two-year programme of inspection, just to assess the level of damage.
"This series of weather events over the last two months has caused some quite serious damage to our infrastructure -- flood defences, rail infrastructure, road infrastructure -- and we have got to assess that."
"There clearly needs to be continued defences in flood defences.
"Further targeted investment mean that we will become more and more resilient as events like this unfortunately probably will become more and more common."
- Cameron thanks 'hard work' -
Prime Minister David Cameron hosted another meeting of Cobra, the government's emergency response committee, on Sunday and warned of more potential flooding.
"Some rain is expected at times next week," he said. "This additional rainfall will add to high groundwater levels and will impact slow feeding rivers over the days ahead.
"The recent flooding has been a tragedy for all those affected and my thoughts are with them.
"Extensive efforts to protect and repair properties and infrastructure are ongoing by many thousands of people among agencies, the military and the emergency services," he added. "I speak for us all when I thank them profusely for their hard work."
In a newspaper interview published on Sunday, opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband blamed climate change for the run of bad weather, and urged government ministers to treat global warming as a "national security issue".
Hammond added on Sunday that "climate change is clearly happening, it's clearly a factor in the weather patterns that we are seeing and that is why we are investing significant amounts of money in increasing our flood resilience in the UK."
At least three people were killed in separate incidents in Ireland, Britain and the English Channel after violent winds and heavy rain swept in from the Atlantic on Friday.
Pulling down power lines and disrupting transport networks across the region, the storm brought fresh misery to flood-hit communities in Britain, parts of which are suffering their wettest start to the year for 250 years.
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