An explosive winter storm that roared across the North Atlantic and trigged severe flooding in England and Wales has fueled criticism of Prime Minister Boris Johnson over his decision not to visit impacted areas as more rain is in the forecast.
The Environmental Agency said England has already received 121 percent of its average February rainfall as major rivers have set new flood records. The Met Office, Britain's meteorological service, said more heavy rain is forecast over the next 48 hours, bringing the threat of "significant flooding" in the coming days.
Storm Dennis — the second major storm of the winter — blew through the U.K. over the weekend, bringing wind gusts of up to 90 mph and heavy rain that flooded roads, railways, homes, and businesses. Three people were killed in the U.K., including a 55-year-old woman swept away in floodwaters.
Johnson has faced criticism in wake of the recent flooding for the decision not to visit devastated communities or to convene a meeting of the government’s crisis committee, COBRA.
During severe flooding in November, Johnson visited flood-impacted areas and held COBRA meetings in the midst of the country's general election campaign, according to Sky News.
Business Minister Nadhim Zahawi said Thursday that Johnson has been "leading the team" by being focused on making sure that funding gets to residents and businesses impacted by the floods instead of worrying about a "media photo opp."
When asked during a Sky News interview about why Johnson made visits during the election campaign but not after the latest round of floods, Zahawi once again defended the prime minister's decision.
"Quite rightly, rather than having a sort of jamboree of media and your whole entourage going, he wants to help people by getting the funding to them,” Zahawi said.
Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has been adding fuel to the criticism of Johnson. Corbyn visited parts of south Wales on Thursday that was inundated when last weekend's Storm Dennis dumped up to 6 inches of rain.
"In refusing to visit flood-hit communities, nowhere-to-be-seen Boris Johnson is showing his true colors by his absence," Corbyn said.
The Labour leader's claim the government's response has been "wholly inadequate" was criticized by Environment Secretary George Eustice as someone who was "trying to politicize the floods".
As the debate of the government response to the floods grows, experts are warning that climate change was increasing the risk of floods across the country.
“This is the third weekend we have seen exceptional river levels and stormy weather, and with the effects of climate change, we need to prepare for more frequent periods of extreme weather like this," said Caroline Douglass, the Environment Agency's director of incident management.
The U.K. Met Office imposed six severe flood warnings advising of serious danger to life Thursday on the rivers Lugg, Severn, and Wye. More than 100 less serious flood warnings were also in effect.
The agency said “further spells of rain in northern England from Friday and into the weekend and early next week may lead to further significant river flooding.” It said “ongoing river flooding remains probable for the lower Severn for the remainder of the week.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.