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Monday, February 10, 2014

Alarm and Anger Over Britain’s Lack of Preparation Flood Social Media and the Web

Flooded railroad tracks in Somerset in Southwest England Feb. 8 in this video recorded by Britain’s Network Rail.

Video and other images shared online highlighted just how dire the flooding has become in England. Rivers are bursting their banks, railroad tracks are swamped and thousands of people have been stranded by flooding, particularly in southern England, over the past month.

My colleague Katrin Bennhold, who has been tracking the rising floods over the past week and the official response, has reported it was the wettest January on record, and Dorset and Somerset counties have been among the worst hit.

Britain’s Network Rail, which owns and operates the rail infrastructure, posted footage on its website of the floodwaters from the 37-mile-long River Parrett submerging the tracks at Bridgewater in Somerset.

But as Ms. Bennhold wrote on Monday, the political tide is rising, too, as flood warnings are moving up the Thames closer to London.

Thousands of residents along the 215-mile Thames, the longest river in England, have been told to prepare for significant flooding as some areas were evacuated. The Thames Barrier, designed to protect London from a North Sea surge, was shut on Sunday to protect properties along the river from flooding.

Officials are trading charges about who to blame for Britain’s lack of preparedness for the ongoing flood crisis. Efforts to address the problems are being circulated on Twitter.

Prime Minister David Cameron began a tour of affected areas in Portland, Dorset.

On his Twitter account, @David_Cameron, Mr. Cameron posted a series of images showing him in meetings with emergency workers â€" but critics have accused him of reducing such staffing.

The Thames Valley law enforcement authorities kept residents informed of the dangers of the rising waters, while the government’s Environment Agency shared images showing efforts to barricade residential areas to keep them from being inundated.

But citizens and local residents voiced alarm and frustration in social media and online. Channel 4 News released a series of videos on Monday showing residents bemoaning the lack of practical advice as to what to do as they watched the water levels creep higher. Some took to boats and sandbags.

One Walton resident along the Thames said the Environment Agency website told residents there was a flood warning but gave “no real idea as to what is going to happen.”

Channel 4 News interviewed a Walton resident on Feb. 10 Channel 4 News footage of Walton-on-Thames, now “Walton-under-Thames.” One resident along the Thames in Berkshire and Surrey said pontoons were overwhelmed and there was nine inches of water in the building where he works. Channel 4 News interviewed residents along the Thames who said water had risen about 14 inches in 24 hours, as they surveyed an area where houses had been evacuated.

Residents denounced the lack of official response in some areas, and suggested on social media that class and politics were factors in how emergency help was being dispatched.

Fatima Manji, a reporter for Channel 4 News, said on her Twitter account that some residents in Berkshire had complained that the animal rescuers were the only help they had been offered.

Follow Christine Hauser on Twitter @christineNYT.