British PM David Cameron visits flood-hit city of York

British Prime Minister David Cameron (centre) greeting British soldiers doing flood relief work after the river Ouse burst its banks, in York, on Dec 28, 2015.
British Prime Minister David Cameron (centre) greeting British soldiers doing flood relief work after the river Ouse burst its banks, in York, on Dec 28, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

YORK (AFP) - British Prime Minister David Cameron visited the flood-hit historic city of York on Monday (Dec 28) as cities, towns and villages across northern England battled to get back on their feet following devastating storms.

Mr Cameron met soldiers and volunteers helping with the aftermath of the flooding as he faced increasing pressure to take more action to prevent further chaos in future.

Around 500 properties were flooded in York, one of Britain's top tourist destinations, on Sunday as two rivers burst their banks. Some residential streets became so inundated that cars were covered up to their roofs.

Soldiers helped pile sandbags up to protect properties and businesses while emergency services paddled around the streets in dinghies trying to find stranded residents.

Flooding has also hit the northern cities of Leeds and Manchester in recent days, as well as a string of towns and villages in the region.

"Let's have a look and see whether more needs to be done," Mr Cameron told Sky News when asked about his government's response.

"After any one of these events, it's right to sit down, look at what you've spent, what you've built, what you're planning to spend, what you're planning to build and work out is it in the right places, are we doing it in the right way, do we need to do more?"

The Environment Agency had 10 severe flood warnings in place on Monday, signalling a "danger to life", chiefly at points along major rivers in Yorkshire.

There were also over 150 flood warning or alerts in place in England and Wales, meaning flooding was either expected or possible.

Mr Cameron sent in 200 more troops to help 300 already on the ground in northern England with tackling the effects of flooding on Sunday. Another 1,000 are on stand-by in case the situation gets worse.

More rain is forecast later in the week, raising the prospect of further floods at a time when many people are still at home following Christmas celebrations.

The Met Office weather forecasting service has issued warnings of rain on Wednesday in northwest and northeast England plus Wales, Northern Ireland and parts of Scotland.

As the clear-up got under way, Mr Cameron's government was under pressure Monday over the quality of Britain's flood defences.

The country has been hit by a series of serious floods including in Cumbria, northern England, earlier this month and in late 2013 and early 2014 in south-west and south-east England.

The Independent newspaper's front page headline read: "The drowning of the north of England" while the Sun ran with "Blunder water".

The Guardian said that "empty rhetoric and even the army cannot substitute for coherent policy on flood prevention".

"Climate change and inadequate preparation... ensure that the floods will become a painfully regular future of British life," it said in an editorial.

Ministers announced a review earlier this month following the floods in Cumbria which will look at whether homes have enough protection.

They say they are spending £2.3 billion (S$4.8 billion) over the next six years to provide better protection for 300,000 homes from flooding.

Mr David Rooke, deputy chief executive of the Environment Agency government body, told BBC radio that a "complete rethink" was needed.

"I think it (the review) will lead to the conclusion that we will need to reassess all the defences right across the country to say what standard of protection have we now got based on current science and what standard of protection will be needed in the future in the face of this changing climate," he added.

Accountancy firm PwC said it was too early to estimate losses arising from this month's floods, but initial analysis showed that they could run as high as £1.3 billion.