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A major operation is underway today in the race to save 300 Hampshire homes from flooding.

Hundreds of soldiers have joined police, firefighters, Environment Agency staff and council workers to stop the River Test flooding homes.

They are taking action over fears that a six foot raise river bank could collapse and allow the Test to flood into large parts of the town.

The innovative multi agency operation involves laying 40,000 sandbags to bolster the flood defences in the town in the wake of the unprecedented rainfall of the past few weeks.

Flows in the groundwater-fed River Test are exceptionally high, and 20 properties have already flooded in the Georgian town as it has become inundated following the recent adverse weather.

Today’s operation involves 45 EA, Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service and Test Valley Borough Council workers, together with 300 military personnel to reduce the risk of flooding to 300 properties in Romsey.

It follows an operation last week to lay 100 one tonne gravel bags in the River Itchen at Winchester, which has so far, with the help of High Volume Pumping by Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service reduced the risk of the flooding of up to 100 properties in the cathedral city.

The current flow rate of the River Test is 55 tonnes of water per second, enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool in just 20 seconds.

The River Test through Romsey only has the capacity to take around 50 tonnes per second.

The 40,000 sandbags have been arriving on flatbed lorries during the latter part of the week, and a number have already been laid. The majority will be laid today.

Mike O’Neill, Environment Agency Operations Manager for Hampshire and the Isle of Wight said: ‘This is an unprecedented operation in Hampshire to deal with an unprecedented situation.

Daily Echo:

“We have been working closely with other multi agencies right through the exceptional weather of the last few weeks.

“An immense amount of planning and organisation has gone in to make this operation happen in such quick time and our aim is to protect 300 properties from flooding and to channel the excess water from the River Test into a nearby flood plain.

“We are doing the operation because there is concern that a 6ft raised river bank at Fish Lake, to the north of Romsey, would be eroded and could then release river water into Romsey.”

The plan is to redirect the water flow back into the River Test further downstream.

The Environment Agency, with the help of the military, will also be strengthening the critical areas along the banks of the river in west Romsey using sandbags.

Major Sebastian Muntz said: “We have deployed 300 Light Dragoons, Royal Engineer troops and Royal Navy personnel to assist with this major operation and it is great to work with the civilian multi agency teams to make all of this happen in such a short time frame.”

Assistant Chief Officer Neil Odin from Hampshire Fire and Rescue said: “This is another example of very effective and coordinated joint working across the Hampshire multi agency partners.

“We have deployed a number of teams of firefighters including from our Urban Search and Rescue and water safety teams to assist the other agencies in making this operation happen, fast, to make the people of Romsey safer.”

The operation has the backing of Romsey and Southampton North MP Caroline Nokes, who said today: “I have seen at first hand how hard all the agencies involved have been working to try to contain the flooding problems in Romsey. “Wherever you go you see the Fire Service, the EA, Hampshire County Council and the Test Valley Borough Council working to keep sandbags in place and pumps working.

“The situation is incredibly difficult. Hopefully the measures being taken today will be successful and a worse situation averted.

“ I would like to express my thanks to all who have worked day and night for 10 days to keep as many properties as possible in Romsey safe from the water."