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Extreme weather takes its toll in U.K.

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Kai Ryssdal: Northern England had some serious flooding at the end of last week. The deluge was said to have been the worst to hit the area in a 1,000 years. Hundreds of homes and businesses were destroyed. Police and the British Army are out in force today checking the safety of 1,800 bridges. And insurance companies are adding up the damage. From London, Marketplace’s Stephen Beard reports.

STEPHEN BEARD: After rescuing them from their homes last week, today the police allowed hundreds of residents back into the devastated Cumbrian town of Cockermouth.

POLICE OFFICER: Don’t all rush because we’ve still got people unaccounted for that we want to make sure everybody’s safe.

Four days after the flood, triggered by the heaviest rainfall on record, the residents have seen for themselves the extent of the damage. Furniture smashed. Shop fronts ripped out and trashed. Businesses ruined, as Catherine Heatherington who runs a bookshop in the town, told the BBC.

CATHERINE HEATHERINGTON: I’m devastated but we expected it to be bad, and it is bad. Yeah, we’ve lost all the stock downstairs. Yeah, it’s all got to be thrown away because it’s water damaged or anything else.

Across Cumbria 1300 homes and shops were flooded. Six river bridges collapsed. With a general election due next year, political leaders were quickly on the scene.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown later promised to pump in extra cash.

PRIME MINISTER GORDON BROWN: And I can say this morning that additional emergency funding will be made available to support the necessary repair work for bridges and roads.

That work will likely cost up to $200 million. Insurance companies reckon they’ll pay out a similar sum to households and businesses. But that’s nothing. Two years ago floods across a wider swath of Britain cost insurers $4-and-a-half billion.

A pattern is developing says Phil Rothwell of the government’s Environment Agency.

PHIL ROTHWELL: The last few years has clearly seen a lot of major events and coming thick and fast. And certainly that’s in line with what Climate Change scientists are telling us.

His agency now spends one-and-a-third billion a year beefing up Britain’s flood defenses. He wants even more to keep pace with the impact of climate change. In spite of the UK’s budget deficit, he’s confident, after the latest deluge, he’ll get the money.

In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

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