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Britain's Cameron visits flood zone as anger mounts

British Prime Minister David Cameron visited flood-hit areas following criticism of his government's handling of a crisis that has left swathes of the country under water.

LONDON: British Prime Minister David Cameron visited flood-hit areas in Britain on Friday following criticism of his government's handling of a crisis that has left swathes of the country under water.

His visit to the stricken southwestern county of Somerset came hours after the embattled head of the Environment Agency was confronted by residents but rejected calls to quit.

Cameron had earlier dispatched Royal Marines in all-terrain vehicles to evacuate a village in Somerset where floodwaters were rising.

Southern England has suffered what is thought to be its wettest winter since 1766 owing to a series of Atlantic storms that are set to continue for several weeks yet.

"Everything that can be done will be done and I'll make sure that happens," Cameron said after he arrived in the flood zone.

He met local residents, farmers and emergency teams, his Downing Street office said.

Cameron admitted the government had been wrong to halt the dredging of rivers in the area - a decision residents partly blamed for the floods - and said that "there are lessons to learn".

Environment Agency boss Chris Smith, who came under fire after suggesting this week that Britain may have to choose between whether to protect towns or the countryside from floods, said he was "very proud" of the response of his agency.

"I have no intention of resigning because I'm very proud of the work the Environment Agency and its staff have been doing," he said during his visit to the area.

Environment minister Owen Paterson was heckled by locals when he visited last week wearing smart black shoes instead of waterproof wellington boots.

The Royal Marines were sent into flooded areas for the first time on Thursday and helped to evacuate 140 properties in the village of Moorland, after local flood defences were breached following another night of heavy rain, the Ministry of Defence said.

The water in Moorland rose by around one metre (3.3 feet) overnight.

The Marines used two all-terrain Pinzgauer vehicles to carry residents to safety.

Despite warnings from the police to leave the area, a handful of residents refused to desert their homes.

The government said on Thursday it would make an extra 30 million pounds (US$48 million, 36 million euros) available for emergency repairs, on top of 100 million pounds already announced by Cameron.

Some areas of southwestern Britain have been flooded for five weeks after what forecasters called a "conveyor belt" of Atlantic storms during the winter.

The main train line from southwest England to London was badly damaged by waves in the coastal town of Dawlish this week. It could take weeks to repair.

High waves that have battered the coast of the southwest counties of Dorset, Devon and Cornwall were expected to be whipped up again at the weekend.

The rainy winter has set records tumbling, being the wettest combined period for December and January across the United Kingdom since 1910, the Met Office has said.

For England alone it was the wettest December to January since 1876-1877 and the second wettest since rainfall records began in 1766.

The weather has been so bad that penguins at a marine park in Scarborough, northeast England, have been given anti-depressants to cheer them up.

Meanwhile, in France salvage teams and a coastguard anti-pollution squad were poised to start pumping fuel out of a Spanish cargo ship which has broken into three sections after a spectacular shipwreck in storms.

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