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updated: 2/14/2014 4:17 PM

Princes help with flood relief as new storm looms over U.K.

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  • Sandbags form a levee protecting the front doors of homes in Gloucester, southwest England, as the region reacts to an increased flood threat alert Friday.

    Sandbags form a levee protecting the front doors of homes in Gloucester, southwest England, as the region reacts to an increased flood threat alert Friday.
    Associated Press

Bloomberg News

Princes William and Harry helped flood protection efforts on the River Thames west of London as a new storm hit the U.K. with drenching rains, threatening to prolong the risk of inundations for another week.

The princes, second and fourth in line to the British throne, joined members of the Household Cavalry and Network Rail staff lugging sandbags to shore up defenses in the riverside Berkshire village of Datchet, video footage from the Guardian newspaper's website shows.

Hundreds of homes in commuter-belt towns along the river are already under water and swathes of Somerset in southwest England have been submerged since before Christmas. Water levels have reached their highest in more than 60 years, the Environment Agency said.

"With further rainfall today and into the weekend, river levels are expected to rise again," the agency's Chief Executive Officer Paul Leinster said in an e-mailed statement. "The risk of flooding continues."

A succession of storms since the beginning of December have brought record rainfall to parts of England, inundating at least 5,800 homes, bringing chaos to rail transport and battering the shoreline with the biggest coastal surges in decades. A new storm with 80-mile-per-hour winds and rain tonight threatens to deluge the worst-hit parts of Britain.

Thousands of households lost electricity after a storm two days ago ripped up power lines, trees and roofs. About 16,092 remained without power at 5:30 p.m., the Energy Networks Association said in a Twitter post.

Storm Warnings

December to February is shaping up to be the wettest winter for parts of England since records began in 1776.

"We're facing a very difficult time because we've got the wettest start to a year for 250 years," Prime Minister David Cameron told ITV News today from Blackpool in northwest England, which has also been battered by storms. "We are fighting on every front."

Winds as high as 80 mph (129 kilometers per hour) may hit the south coast, and rainfall may total 1.6 inches in parts of the southwest and south Wales by mid- morning, the Met Office weather service said.

"The public should be aware of the potential for disruption to travel as well as trees being uprooted and perhaps damage to buildings," the forecaster said.

Swedish Defenses

The Environment Agency increased the number of severe flood warnings to 23 from 17. In the southeast, a new warning was issued for Lymington, where the agency said waves may overtop the sea wall. Five new warnings were added to coastal areas of Cornwall, Devon and Dorset in the southwest.

They add to 14 severe warnings along the Thames in Berkshire and Surrey, two in Somerset and one in neighboring Gloucestershire, indicating a danger to life. The agency has issued a further 198 warnings that inundations are expected, and 292 alerts that they're possible.

To the west of London, towns including Windsor, Datchet, Wraysbury, Staines, Egham, Chertsey and Shepperton Green remain at risk in coming days, the agency said, estimating that 1,135 homes have flooded in the Thames Valley since Jan. 29.

The Environment Agency has ordered temporary defenses from Sweden and the Netherlands. Today it was putting up barrages in Chertsey and Staines, having worked yesterday to protect the southern cathedral city of Winchester from the rising River Itchen.

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