PRIME minister David Cameron will visit areas hit by devastating floods as northern England and Scotland brace themselves for more heavy rain later this week.

The government has faced criticism after multimillion-pound defences built following catastrophic floods in 2005 failed to keep the deluge out from people's homes in Cumbria, the county worst affected by Storm Desmond.

In Carlisle, the army was sent to help support emergency services as they spent a second day evacuating people from their homes in streets where cars were almost entirely submerged.

But while the rain and heavy winds, which prompted the county to declare a major incident, subsided on Sunday, the Met Office issued yellow weather warnings for the rest of the week and forecast "persistent rain".

Mr Cameron chaired an early morning meeting of the government's contingencies committee Cobra in Whitehall to discuss the latest situation with ministers and emergency service chiefs and oversee the official response to the flooding.

Following the hour-long meeting, the prime minister said: "I've just chaired a Cobra meeting on the floods. There'll be further announcements this morning - and later I will visit badly hit areas."

John Leyland, deputy director of operations at the Environment Agency, has rejected criticism over the failed flood defences in Cumbria.

He told BBC Radio Cumbria: "We warned hundreds of residents and communities about the impending rain. What nobody could have predicted is the amount.

"Unfortunately the flood defences were just not going to be able to protect every single property."

He said the amount of rainfall was an "unprecedented event" which was "beyond the forecasts and beyond the models".

Mr Leyland said that £45 million had been invested in flood defences in Cumbria since 2005 and more investment would continue.

He said: "They slowed down the flow and it gave us more time to evacuate residents and protect communities.

"The water we have seen in the street would have been a lot higher if we had not spent money on these defences."

Cumbria rain gauge figures showed a record amount fell in the 24 hours between Friday and Saturday evenings, with 13.4in (341mm) registered in Honister - more than a month's worth of rain in just one day.

More than 2,000 homes and businesses in the county were flooded and almost 60,000 homes in the county were left without power throughout Sunday as the floods damaged sub-stations and caused electrical faults.

Electricity North West said 2,657 properties in Cumbria remained without power on Monday morning because of 11 separate faults caused by flooding, with floodwater preventing engineers from getting to the sites to carry out repairs.

In the Lancaster and Morecambe area, where the main substation was flooded on Saturday night, engineers working "around the clock" restored power to 45,000 homes and were continuing efforts to return power to the remaining 10,000 over the course of Monday morning.

Electricity North West incident manager Steve Cox said: "We've had engineers on boats working with the emergency services to try and access faults in Cumbria, and we've seen sterling efforts from teams in Lancaster to repair the damaged substation, while others connect generators to speed up restoration to customers."

The company reported homes without power in Carlisle, Cockermouth, Appleby, Grizedale, Melling, Ravenstone and Braithwaite.

Water supplies in a number of main towns were also affected by floodwater and at least 20 schools were expected to remain closed on Monday.

The disruption led to the cancellation of appointments and routine services across NHS hospitals and services.

Cumbria Police also launched a search following reports of an elderly man falling into the swollen River Kent in Kendal.

Speaking from Carlisle, Superintendent Mark Pannone, of Cumbria Constabulary, said the flooding had been "on an unprecedented scale", affecting the whole county.

"A lot of the county are trying to get back to normality but we still have the ongoing incident in Carlisle where we have about 2,500 properties in Carlisle flooded," he said.

"People overnight have been staying in their houses or in reception centres and those that have been in their houses still need to be evacuated by boat this morning.

"The other issue we have got is that the road network is complicated throughout the county, inasmuch as Kendal will be in gridlock today because the bridges will have to be inspected for structural damage."

He added that the rail network in Cumbria remained "basically at a standstill".

Cumbria County Council leader Stewart Young told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "There does need to be an investigation into the flood defences.

"I will be talking to our local MPs later today and if the Environment Agency needs to revisit them then that's what's going to have to happen because we can't continue to have events like this in Cumbria, we just won't be able to cope."

But Environment Agency chief executive Sir James Bevan defended spending on flood defences and said it was impossible to guarantee protection against such "unprecedented" conditions.

Existing defences had prevented thousands of homes being inundated and given those who were affected more time to prepare, he told Today.

"Nature is nature. From time to time nature will throw things at us that overwhelm the system and I think that's what happened here," said Sir James.

"You can never completely protect all communities. What you can do is make the best judgments about the most appropriate ways to protect the maximum number of people in a given place."

He dismissed suggestions that the Agency acted more swiftly to deal with floods in the south of England, but acknowledged that it would have to review what happened in Cumbria in order to "learn the lessons for the future".

Responding to complaints - including from Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, whose Westmorland and Lonsdale constituency was among those badly affected - that schemes promised after previous floods had been shelved, Sir James said those dealing with a "particularly urgent need" were prioritised.

Chancellor George Osborne had protected a £2.3 billion investment in defences over five to six years, he noted.

An appeal by Cumbria Community Foundation to raise £1 million to support vulnerable individuals and families who have been badly affected by the floods is under way and has already raised well over £100,000.

Environment secretary Liz Truss said: "What our priority is now is to get the power up and running - a number of homes have been connected this morning - and also get transport infrastructure sorted out - roads and the rail - to get things back to normal as soon as possible."

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