LONDON, Feb. 18 (UPI) -- Many places in southern England could be underwater for days, and the ground is so saturated the risk of more flooding is high, the Environment Agency says.
In a statement posted on its website Sunday, the agency warned that rivers will rise quickly if there is more rain.
"Despite an improving forecast the risk of flooding will continue for many communities in southern parts of England over the next few days and we will continue to see large areas under floodwater for many days to come," Paul Leinster, the agency's director, said.
Britain and Ireland have experienced one of their most difficult winters in years, with storms bringing high winds, heavy rain, snow and sometimes bone-chilling temperatures to much of the country. Some of the worst recent flooding has been in the Somerset Levels, an area of low-lying farmland on the Bristol Channel, in the Thames Valley and the valleys of smaller rivers in southern England like the Itchen, which runs through the ancient capital of Winchester.
In Somerset, 54 pumps are working around the clock to remove water from the Levels, the agency said. On Sunday, the Thames Barrier, designed to protect London from storm surges in the Thames Estuary, was closed for a record 18th consecutive day.
Flooding continued to make life difficult for travelers. Service on the rail line between Brighton and London was disrupted Monday by signal equipment that had been damaged, with Southern Rail replacing some trains with buses and advising other commuters to take alternate routes, the West Sussex County Times reported.
Insurance industry leaders were called to a summit meeting Tuesday with members of the Cabinet, the Guardian reported. The government planned to discuss ways to speed up the handling of flood claims, while insurers wanted to talk about extending the Flood Re subsidy program, the newspaper said.