* Cameron calls for relief effort focus
* Estimated 500 mln pound insurance bill
* Areas close to capital under threat
By Luke MacGregor
BURROWBRIDGE, England, Feb 10 Britain's top
political leaders headed to flood-hit areas of south-west
England on Monday as they looked to limit the growing fallout
from the government's handling of the crisis.
Prime Minister David Cameron returned to the area for the
second time in four days, visiting Dorset, while Deputy Prime
Minister Nick Clegg arrived in badly-flooded Somerset.
Parts of Britain have seen their wettest January on record
and around 5,000 homes have been flooded, with some remaining
under water for more than a month.
Attention is also turning to more populated areas close to
London, where water levels are still rising.
Anger among residents over the slow response to the crisis
and the lack of resources put into preventing it in the first
place have led to a pointing of fingers over whether Britain's
Environment Agency or government is to blame.
"I back the Environment Agency, I back the work they are
doing. Everyone has got to get on with the job they are doing,"
Cameron told reporters from a windy beach in Dorset as
politicians on all sides criticised the escalating blame game.
"I am only interested in one thing and that is making sure
everything the government can do is being done and will go on
being done to help people through this difficult time."
Earlier Cameron's spokesman said the government acknowledged
part of the problem had been the failure to dredge rivers, a
measure he said had been cut back since the Environment Agency
was established in the late 1990s.
"That needs to change and will change," he said.
Last week, the government pledged an extra 130 million
pounds ($213 million) to help with the repairs and maintenance
of flood defences, and the military have been drafted in to help
build defences and evacuate homes.
Cameron has described the scene in the Somerset Levels, an
artificially drained wetlands area prone to flooding, as
Mohammad Khan, insurance partner at PwC, estimated the cost
of the damage caused by the bad weather in December and January
could be more than 600 million pounds, with the insurance
industry facing paying out as much as 500 million pounds.
"Given the weather forecasts for this week and further into
February, we would expect further flash flooding and for these
estimated costs to rise," he said.
On top of the devastation in the south west, the Environment
Agency has issued severe flood warnings for areas of the River
Thames west of London, and the Thames Barrier was closed on
Monday to protect east London from flooding.
Environment Agency Chairman Chris Smith, who has faced calls
to resign over the handling of the crisis, defended his
department's record and blamed government rules on limits to
funding available for individual flood prevention schemes.
"There's no place for playing politics in the serious
business of flood protection," he wrote in the Guardian
Rail links to much of the south west, a popular area for
tourism, remained cut off ahead of school holidays next week.
Rob Wood, chief UK economist at Berenberg, said the wider
economic impact of the floods would depend on how quickly the
"Previous episodes of bad weather like snow have taken
upwards of 0.1, 0.2 (percentage points off quarter-on-quarter
GDP)," he said, adding that sectors such as construction and
manufacturing would likely be worst hit.
"If it snows in January and February, then you maybe don't
make up the loss until the second quarter so you have the whole