British Prime Minister David Cameron has unveiled a £10 million package of support for businesses hit by the floods.

British small and medium-sized firms will be able to access funds so that they can meet clean-up costs and keep trading in the wake of the winter storms.

Mr Cameron said recovering from the brutal weather would be a "long haul", and he wanted to help companies get "back on their feet".

"The government is taking action across the board to deal with the clear-up and help hard-working people affected by the floods," he said.

Firms that have been flooded or suffered significant loss of trade will be able to apply for help from the new Business Support Scheme.

Business Secretary Vince Cable said: "It is vital that small businesses affected by the flooding get assistance as quickly as possible.

Earlier, a British cabinet minister admitted the military could have been brought in earlier to help deal with the winter storms that have caused chaos across the country.

As the weather finally gave homeowners and businesses respite, defence secretary Philip Hammond defended the government's handling of the crisis.

He said royal engineers were now being tasked to carry out a high-speed assessment of "serious" damage to the UK's flood defence infrastructure.

But Mr Hammond conceded that in future the Government would involve the military earlier in the process, and be more "aggressive" in urging local authorities to use troops.

Swathes of the UK remain on high alert as people battle to protect their homes and communities from the floodwaters, which are still expected to rise in places despite the break in the storms.

Two people died on Friday - James Swinstead, an elderly passenger on a cruise ship in the English Channel, and minicab driver Julie Sillitoe, 49, whose car was hit by falling masonry in central London.

A 20-year-old pregnant woman and her unborn baby also died in a car crash in south Wales.

Mr Hammond said more than 3,000 troops were currently deployed to help and 5,000 more were available if needed.