British flood victims angry at lack of help

A display car at a car dealership has been left on a ramp above floodwater in Datchet in Berkshire, South East England, on Feb 10, 2014. The floodwaters are rising in Datchet but there appears to be no one around to help except David Cannon the
A display car at a car dealership has been left on a ramp above floodwater in Datchet in Berkshire, South East England, on Feb 10, 2014. The floodwaters are rising in Datchet but there appears to be no one around to help except David Cannon the water-taxi man. -- PHOTO: AFP

DATCHET (AFP) - The floodwaters are rising in Datchet but there appears to be no one around to help except David Cannon the water-taxi man.

This quaint English town may be just a mile from the elite Eton College where Britain's prime minister went to school, but residents say they are waiting in vain for any substantial help from the government.

Instead it is up to people like Cannon, a 52-year-old scoutmaster, and other volunteers to help get people through the waters that have come from the swollen River Thames.

"It's a very popular service at the moment," Cannon tells AFP in the driving rain after giving a local resident a lift in his red canoe.

"We have been running some children to school and also taking sandbags where they're needed." He said the response of the British authorities had been "very disorganised".

"They supplied sandbags yesterday and we had the military here last night but there's been nothing since then."

Datchet backs on to the famed playing fields of Eton, where British Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson went to school, and just a few kilometres from Queen Elizabeth II's Windsor Castle.

Cameron's government is now fighting a tide of criticism over its handling of the crisis.

Driven by the wettest winter in England since 1766, the floods first hit southwest England about seven weeks ago.

But they are now creeping eastwards towards London, into the wealthy suburbs lining the River Thames which are the heartland of Cameron's centre-right Conservative party.

With elections in May 2015, senior figures from all the main political parties have been visiting stricken areas to show they care.

The water is at least knee-deep in the centre of Datchet, a riverside commuter town with its historic church and mock tudor-fronted buildings that is so close to London's Heathrow Airport that the planes sometimes drown out conversation.

Several homes and businesses have been flooded here. But the only sign of any official activity is the occasional fire engine pushing up huge bow waves as it drives through the deluge.

"It's pretty pathetic. There's been no response whatsoever," said Yvonne Marks, 62, as she grimly surveyed the scene in the wind and rain.

"There's a shortage of sandbags, and what sandbags they have delivered aren't really making any difference." The response is similar in the village of Wraysbury, about 5km away, where the floodwaters are even higher.

Wraysbury flood warden Su Burrows became something of a celebrity after she emotionally berated visiting Defence Secretary Philip Hammond on live television for his handling of the crisis.

Later, she told AFP that her tirade appeared to have had some effect because she saw 2,000 sandbags being taken in to Wraysbury on the back of trucks.

But she said that the official response before she confronted the minister had been "abysmal, non-existent".

"It's disappointing that we need to get people (officials) down here in person for something to happen. I don't want people to think I am an angry little bird about nothing - it's taken that to get them down here," she said.

Burrows said the government should capitalise on the "Blitz spirit" - like Londoners during the Nazi bombing of Britain in World War II - shown by the community during this time of crisis.

Volunteers in Wraysbury had been coordinating road closures both to keep out potential looters and keep drivers away from flooding, calling emergency services to help stranded people, and had set up a flood centre in a local school.

"There is anger and frustration, but there is community spirit like you have never seen," Burrows said.

"It's pouring with rain and freezing cold, but there are volunteers out all over the place."