Worst winter rainfall since 1766 in parts of Britain

LONDON (AFP) - Britain announced emergency funding Thursday to cope with devastating floods after what officials said had been likely the worst spell of winter rainfall in at least 248 years.

Prime Minister David Cameron's government has faced criticism for its handling of a crisis that has left swathes of the country under water, with a key railway line washed away.

Several people had to be rescued from deluged homes on Thursday while more storms are expected this weekend.

Across the English Channel, France's western tip was placed on alert for flooding as high tides wreaked havoc along Europe's Atlantic coast.

Britain's Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said the government would make an extra £30 million (S$62 million) available for emergency repairs, on top of £100 million announced by Cameron on Wednesday.

Pickles said the winter was the "wettest since George III was on the throne", referring to Britain's monarch from 1760-1820.

He added that flood victims have "literally been through hell and high water".

Britain's Meterological Office released figures confirming Pickles' assessment.

For southern England, "regional statistics suggest that this is one of, if not the most, exceptional periods of winter rainfall in at least 248 years", it said in a statement.

Parts of the region received five months of rainfall between December 12 and January 31.

For England alone it was the wettest December to January since 1876-1877 and the second wettest since rainfall records began in 1766.

Meanwhile in France, Finestere, a department of Brittany which juts out into the Atlantic, was placed on red flooding alert and braced for two of its rivers, the Morlaix and the Laita, to burst their banks as a result of heavy rain forecast for Thursday.

The highest-level warning was issued by Meteo-France shortly after the agency placed 29 departments from Brittany to the Paris region on a second-tier orange alert.

Recent days have seen huge waves, gale-force winds and torrential rains combine to batter sea defences from the Basque country on France's border with Spain.

The storms sent a Spanish cargo ship crashing into a sea wall at the French port of Bayonne on Wednesday, splitting it clean in two.