Storms batter Britain, wash away rail line, pier

LONDON (AP) — Heavy rain, high tides and strong winds pounded England's southern coast Wednesday, washing away a stretch of rail line, damaging an iconic seaside pier and leaving thousands of homes without power.

A section of seawall under the railway line collapsed at Dawlish in the county of Devon on the southwestern coast, severing the main rail route between London and the region.

"I have been here for 44 years and we haven't had storm damage like we have now," Devon county councilor John Clatworthy said. "The storm last night was unbelievable."

Further east in Brighton, a chunk of the ornate but derelict West Pier, a Victorian landmark, crumbled into the sea.

The storm, which began Tuesday and saw wind gusts of up to 91 mph (146 kph), is the latest of the bad weather that has battered Britain since December.

In the low-lying Somerset Levels, thousands of acres have been under water for more than a month. Police in a helicopter used megaphones to tell residents of more than 150 properties to leave their homes Wednesday as more flooding loomed.

Many residents there say the government has been slow to come to their aid.

Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday promised to spend an extra 100 million pounds ($163 million) on flood defense, repairs and maintenance over the next year.