Severe flood warnings remain asJohnson's response is criticised

Peter Walker , Ben Quinn and Josh Halliday

Severe flood warnings remain in place and rescue operations were continuing in stricken communities on Monday evening, as the government faced criticism for its response to what has been described as unprecedented flooding in parts of the country.

With thousands of properties flooded after a month’s worth of rain fell on parts of Britain over the weekend, and more than 200 flood warnings still in place, Labour said it was “a disgrace” that the prime minister was not visiting affected towns and villages and was resisting calls to convene the Cobra emergencies committee.

The political row came as police confirmed a body had been found in the search for a woman whose car is believed to have got stuck in high water in the West Midlands. She has been named as Yvonne Booth, 55, from Great Barr in Birmingham. Another five people are thought to have died in the flooding this weekend.

Six “severe” flood warnings – meaning that there is a danger to life – were in place on Monday in Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire. Authorities said that the scale of flooding had been “unprecedented” in Wales.

Flood defences in Mytholmroyd, Calder valley, West Yorkshire. Photograph: Adam Vaughan/Rex/Shutterstock

As Johnson was accused by the acting Liberal Democrat leader, Ed Davey, of “pretending that the floods were not happening”, Downing Street said that he had no plans to visit any of the areas affected by flooding from Storm Dennis, and would instead spend the day working from a country house in Kent.

A No 10 spokesman said he was being kept updated from Chevening, a government-owned historic property near Sevenoaks being used while work is continuing at Chequers, the official prime ministerial country retreat.

Johnson was heckled last year and faced an angry response when he visited flood-hit communities in the north of England, as he declined to apologise over his government’s slow response to events.

The new environment secretary, George Eustice, on Monday defended the government’s record on responding to the storms, and to the wider issue of flooding. “The government has a firm grip on this,” he told Sky News. “It’s a very difficult situation, with widespread flood alerts, but our flood defences are working as intended.”

In the past year, he said, new flood-response infrastructure had protected more than 200,000 properties, with a further 100,000 due to be protected. The government had also pledged an extra £4bn in funding for flood defences over the next five years, said Eustice.

“What we’ve got in place is working, and in these recent flood events nearly 20,000 properties have been protected,” he said.

The devolved Labour-led administration in Wales was also defending its response and preparedness as the first minister, Mark Drakeford, visited several homes in some of the worst hit-communities.

“Of course there is more to do. We have a £350m investment programme over this assembly term in flood and coastal flooding programmes,” he said after visiting Oxford Street in Nantgarw, which saw heavy flooding this weekend, leaving properties and businesses ruined.

In south Wales, police declared a “major incident” on Sunday after more than a month’s rain fell in 48 hours, leading to multiple landslides and people being trapped in their homes. Pontypridd town centre was left underwater and surrounding towns and villages were told by the Met Office they could be cut off “perhaps for several days” because of the floods.

More than 600 people in Pontypridd have been displaced and about 1,000 homes badly damaged. Alex Davies-Jones, the Labour MP for Pontypridd, criticised the prime minister’s failure to visit the region: “Where is he? He’s the Scarlet Pimpernel – you can never find him in an emergency.”

She said: “Why hasn’t Cobra been convened? This is a massive national emergency in my book. Parts of Wales have been hit that have never been hit before – that’s what’s so shocking about this. We need to understand why this has happened. The UK government needs to wake up and realise serious things are happening here in terms of climate change and our planet and it needs to address them now.”

Sian Williams, the head of operations for north-west Wales at Natural Resources Wales, said: “This is unprecedented. The worst-hit area was from the Brecon Beacons into the south Wales valleys.

A woman and her dogs are rescued from a property in Nantgarw, Wales. Photograph: Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

“We have had some of the highest levels we have ever seen in some rivers. The River Taff reached its highest level in over 40 years. This is unprecedented in terms of the scale of the rainfall and the levels of the rivers as well.”

Elsewhere, residents in Upton upon Severn and Uckinghall, in Worcestershire, were being advised to evacuate with water levels expected to rise on Monday evening. Towns including Shrewsbury in Shropshire, Bewdley in Worcestershire, and Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire were identified as being the government’s greatest concern after the River Severn burst its banks.

“Our absolute priority is keeping people safe and as such we are asking the community in the affected areas to make alternative arrangements to stay with family and friends or to head to the rescue centre, where provisions are in place,” said Ch Supt Tom Harding of West Mercia police.

More torrential rain of the sort which had swelled rivers to “exceptional” levels was meanwhile forecast to fall later this week, warned the Environment Agency (EA). It warned that the flood risk continues, with further heavy rain forecast in the north of England for Wednesday and Thursday, possibly falling on already flooded areas.

Boats were used to evacuate residents in towns such as Hereford, where water levels were described as “truly exceptional” by David Throup, the EA’s West Midlands environment manager. “They are the highest levels we’ve ever recorded on the River Wye and those records go back 200 years,” he told Sky News.

People looking at flood water in Tenbury Wells after the River Teme burst its banks in western England. Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images

Britain’s transport network was also hit by a third day of disruption, including at Heathrow, where more than 90 flights at the UK’s largest airport were cancelled due to the knock-on effect of what was described as a “technical issue”.

Motorists continued to face treacherous driving conditions, with roads rendered impassable around the country, while fallen trees caused chaos to train services.

CrossCountry, Great Western Railway, Northern, South Western Railway, Southern, Thameslink and Transport for Wales were among the operators with delays and cancellations.