Humanitarian crisis as thousands left homeless in worst floods in living memory

The biggest rescue operation in Britain since World War II is underway as thousands across the country are left homeless due to the worst floods in the country in living memory. The worst hit counties are Worcestershire, Warwickshire, Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire. The village of Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire - renowned for being the site of a battle during the Wars of the Roses in 1471 - has now become, temporarily, an island, as have several other towns. Many towns along the Thames are facing severe floods as the river threatens to burst its banks.

Humanitarian crisis as thousands face new evacuation alert

23rd July 2007
Daily Mail

• Warning as Thames rises 3ft in 12 hours
• Thousands of families left without power
• Brown announces flooding review
• Mains water shortage sparks panic buying

Special boat service: firemen rescue a family whose home was flooded in Gloucester. Thousands more homeowners were warned to get ready to flee as floodwaters continued to rise

Britain's flood crisis deepened today as thousands of homeowners were issued with a new flood evacuation alert.

Fears were growing that rivers including the Thames and the Severn could burst their banks. The Thames in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, rose three feet in less than 12 hours today and with parts of the town already badly hit after the Ock burst its banks, householders were fearing the worst.

The Environment Agency warned people had to be ready to leave their homes if heavy rain continued.

It came as figures showed this month is set to be the wettest July on record. The Met Office said some areas have already had twice as much rain as the July average of 6.2cm and there is a good chance that the record of 14.51cm, recorded in July 1988, would be surpassed.

The new alert came as Gordon Brown announced a review into the floods as a major humanitarian operation got underway to provide food and clean drinking water to washed out communities.

Saved: firefighters rescue 18-month-old Petie Rafferty and his mother Penny in Gloucester

Water levels continued to rise to a 'critical level' with nine severe flood warnings in place across the country.

This morning 48,000 homes woke up without electricity after a flooded power station was switched off, while another 500,000 are also at risk of losing their power.

The focus of attention was Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire as the Rivers Severn and Thames saw their swollen banks put under considerable pressure.

Environment Agency chairman Sir John Harman said: "In terms of the ongoing risk, I'm afraid to say that I don't think we have seen the peak.

"If you think you are going to be at risk of flooding, make sure you have got your valuables out of the way, and gas and electricity turned off, and you are, if required, ready to evacuate."

An aerial view of Castlemeads power station, crippled by the floods

Prime Minister Gordon Brown visits the operational centre at Gloucestershire Police Headquarters near Gloucester

Mr Brown said the review would focus on drainage and how the infrastructure could be protected against further flooding.

Beleaguered local authorities are also set to receive extra funding to pay for emergency work to deal with the flooding.

Mr Brown also announced that the Government would increase the amount of money spent on flood and coastal defences across the country.

Residents in Tewkesbury are rescued by emergency services

A man is forced to use a canoe for transport in Tewkesbury

However, it emerged today that the Government has not yet put in a bid for help from Brussels, which could make millions of pounds worth of aid available. Any EU nation hit by "major natural disaster" causing damage exceeding £2 billion pounds can apply within ten weeks of the crisis for cash relief from the £700-million-a-year European Union Solidarity Fund.

The latest floods come as scientists prepare to confirm the link between the recent flash floods and climate change. The results of a major new study of climate change and its effects will be published in Wednesday's journal Nature. Details of the study and its findings are under embargo until then.

More than 48,000 homes across Gloucestershire and parts of Herefordshire were left without power after Castlemeads power station in Gloucester was shut down. Another 500,000 are also at risk of losing their electricity.

RSPCA officers rescue a woman and her dog in Tewkesbury

The Prime Minister today saw at first hand the devastation caused. Gordon Brown flew by helicopter over the stricken county of Gloucestershire where thousands of people have been left without clean water.

Fears that mains water supplies could be cut for up to three days in some areas sparked panic-buying of bottled water

Soldiers and firemen delivered food parcels and set up soup kitchens in towns cut off by some of the worst flooding in 50 years.

More than 48,000 homes across Gloucestershire and parts of Herefordshire were left without power after Castlemeads power station in Gloucester was shut down.

Misery: homes in Abingdon were bracing for further flooding today

A police spokeswoman said a "massive" overnight operation by emergency services was carried out to save another substation nearby, which serves more than half a million homes.

Katy Roberts, of Gloucestershire Police, said: "This substation at Castlemeads has been switched off due to flooding. The decision to terminate the supply in a controlled manner was made for safety reasons due to a sudden surge in the floodwater.

"Fire and Rescue are working with Central Networks to try to restore power as quickly as possible.

However it may remain off for some hours. It had affected 48,000 homes."

Temporary flood barriers have been erected around the second power station at Walham, Gloucester, she added.

Fireman's lift: a boy is carried from the flood waters as Abingdon

The Environment Agency said at least 700 properties have been flooded in the Thames region, mainly in Oxfordshire and Berkshire, and many roads remain impassable.

It said water levels on parts of the Thames have exceeded those in the Great Floods of 1947.

But the agency was attacked by politicians and scientists.

"The Environment Agency failed the get the flood barriers up in time, despite the forecasts, and this is a disgrace," said Professor Ian Cluckie, Professor of Hydrology and Water Management at the University of Bristol.

"The flood waters could take a week to recede and low-lying areas will have to be pumped out."
Residents in Abingdon said the water had risen a foot this morning and hundreds were preparing to evacuate.

Tim Armstead and fiancée Caroline Brandon said the water was rising visibly in the flooded garden of their cottage.

Mr Armstead, 34, a surveyor, said: "It will be a nightmare if we have to try to get the house back in shape with just weeks to go before our wedding."

In Oxford, authorities were using Oxford United's Kassam Stadium, on the outskirts of the city, as a temporary shelter for as many as 1,500 people.

A fire service spokesman added: "We're on stand-by at the moment. Hopefully, things won't get worse but I think they will."

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn urged people to look after others trapped in the floods. Appearing with Gordon Brown at the Prime Minister's first monthly press conference, Mr Benn said: "This is a continuing emergency.

"There are nine severe flood warnings still in place - five on the Severn and Avon, three on the Thames and one on the Great Ouse at Bedford.

"If you are advised to evacuate, follow the advice and do not go into the water and, of course, look out for your neighbours and your friends, particularly vulnerable and elderly people." Mr Brown defended the Environment Agency.

After visiting flood-hit Gloucestershire, he said: "The barriers ... would not have made the difference that people imagine they could have made at that stage."

But Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said the agency had days to prepare for the downpours.

He said: "People will be rightly alarmed that the necessary material, such as flood barriers, was not where it needed to be. The Environment Agency has failed in its duty to protect tens of thousands of householders. They had plenty of advance warning. It's simply not acceptable that more was not done.

Britain has been let down."

Human chain: free water is handed out at Tesco in Quedgeley, near Gloucester

However, the agency's chief, executive Baroness Young, said: "It's difficult to see how we could defend against floods of this magnitude. They have been exceptionally severe. We always say that we can help protect against floods but we can't absolutely prevent floods."

Mr Brown blamed climate change and said funds to tackle flooding problems had risen from £300million to £800 million a year.

He said: "It is pretty clear that some of the 19th century structures - we are dealing with infrastructure and where they were sited - is something we are going to review.

"At the same time we are going to have to look at drainage, surface water, as well as river water, and what we are going to be able to do in the future."

He pledged extra funds if an ongoing review, announced earlier this month, finds more are needed to boost flood defences.

Flood of tears: A sobbing baby is carried to safety in Evesham

Humans were not the only ones fleeing the rising water levels today - hundreds of cows, dogs and sheep were rescued from the floods.

More than 50 RSPCA inspectors and officials have been deployed to the worst affected areas to save trapped animals.

In Oxfordshire, 200 cattle were rescued from a flooded field near Witham and 15 cattle were saved from drowning in 5ft of water in Eynsham, near Whitney.

Sheep up to their necks in water were saved from a field near Oxford, while a man and a woman on a narrow boat near Bampton were taken to safety.

In Gloucestershire, 40 sheep and a pony were saved from a flood-stricken farm near Chaceley.

Sixteen people and four dogs were also rescued from the village of Lower Appeley, while a greyhound kennels had to be evacuated in the county.

The RAF and coastguards were drafted in to lift hundreds of people to safety in one of the biggest peacetime rescue operations.

Car thieves and flood "rubberneckers" are also becoming a major problem for the emergency services in some areas.

West Mercia Constabulary said many flood victims who had been forced to abandon their cars in south Worcestershire now faced further misery from opportunist thieves.

Some 350,000 people in the Tewkesbury, Gloucester and Cheltenham area were warned that their water supplies would be cut after a treatment plant was flooded.

Around 600 of water tankers are being sent in, with military help.

Emergency services were also battling to stop floodwater reaching a major electricity substation on the outskirts of Gloucester which supplies 500,000 people.

Residents of Hampton House Care Home being transported in an ambulance after being evacuated from the village of Hampton Bishop, near Hereford, in Herefordshire

Up to 40 elderly residents were also evacuated from a care home in Herefordshire. Victims were being taken from the flooded residential home, situated in Fownhope Road in Hampton Bishop, to a nearby school for shelter.

A fire service spokeswoman said she was unsure of the name of the home, adding that the army were using high wheel-based trucks to transport the residents to safety.

There were fears of further misery ahead, as rivers swelled to within inches of bursting their banks. A total of 61 flood warnings - 26 severe - were in place.

As the scale of the damage emerged, anger mounted at the way flood defences failed - or were never put in place - despite several days' warning of severe weather and the experience of last month's floods.

There was also growing frustration at the way developers have been allowed to build in flood plains, putting families at risk of heartbreaking deluges.

A Government blueprint for millions of new homes will today say it is "unrealistic" to stop building on floodplains.

The Green Paper being published by housing minister Yvette Cooper will commit the Government to three million new homes by 2010 - many of them in the already crowded South-East of England.

And as part of an £8 billion drive to construct 70,000 extra affordable homes each year for the next three years, local authorities will be given the green light to start building council houses again.

A Whitehall leak inquiry was launched last night after the BBC and Financial Times each claimed to have copies of the Green Paper, which was being kept tightly under wraps by the Department for Communities and Local Government.

According to the BBC, Ms Cooper will announce a significant increase in shared ownership houses and shared equity schemes to help young would-be home-owners get their foot on the property ladder.

But the most controversial aspect of the paper is expected to be the admission that it is unrealistic to bar development on flood plains.

The paper will argue that 10 per cent of England's existing housing stock is on flood plains, and say that it is for councils to ensure they use proper planning procedures to minimise the risk involved, reported the BBC.

Despite widespread criticism Environment Secretary Hilary Benn defended the Government's flood preparation, saying nothing could have guarded against the amount of rainfall in recent days.

He told GMTV the Government had doubled investment for future flood defence over the last 10 years to £600 million this year and strengthened planning procedures to prevent flooding in new building developments.

He said: "The amount of water which has come out of the sky, that has led to the devastation, I saw for myself yesterday in Worcester and Gloucester and Evesham, the terrible distress it has caused to people.

Surrounded by a sea of floodwater, a church in Tirley, Gloucestershire. The area suffered a further blow yesterday when 350,000 people were told there would be no tap water because a treatment plant has been contaminated

"The trouble is, when you get that amount of rain in that concentrated a time, even the best flood defences in the world are going to be overtopped, and that's what we've seen in many places. "We've seen unprecedented levels of rainfall and flooding that people haven't seen for 60 years."

And are also fears insurance premiums could rise to meet the estimated £2billion cost of this year's floods.

Many of the tens of thousands of flood victims have lost priceless possessions and will be homeless for months. Some could be away for more than a year.

Miraculously, there have been few injuries. So far, just one person has died - a 64-year-old man in a flooded cellar in Cumbria.

Cut off: Tewkesbury Cathedral and surrounding homes stand isolated by the flood water

The clean-up bill is expected to run into hundreds of millions. On top of damage to homes and businesses, hundreds of farms have been flooded, destroying crops and killing livestock.

Friday's first wave of flooding was caused by drains becoming overwhelmed by torrential rain.

In Evesham, more than 30 guests and staff were trapped in the Northwick Hotel and children spent a third night at their special needs school.

Food supplies were also sent to Upton-on-Severn, where 26 people spent the night in a temporary shelter.

The town's portable flood defences had been stuck in a traffic jam on the M5 when the water began pouring in.

The warning that mains water supplies could be cut for up to three days sparked panic-buying of bottled water.

Gloucester police were called to a stampede at Asda while supplies quickly ran out at Sainsbury's in Cheltenham and Morrison's in Tewkesbury.

Worried families filled baths, kettlessaucepans and buckets, despite a plea from Severn Trent Water not to stockpile water.

Fighting the tide: A Tewkesbury resident attempts to hold the water at bay

Sutton and East Surrey Water told another 80,000 households to boil water before drinking it after untreated water contaminated the mains supply.

Armed forces, lifeboat crews and even the RSPCA joined the rescue operation. RSPCA officers helped 16 people and four dogs to safety in Lower Appeley, Gloucestershire.

Drivers braving the Worcester ring road

A spokesman said there were growing fears for trapped farm animals. "My big concern is for animals in intensive units," he said. "If they're not getting water, they will be dead in 48 hours."

Critics accused the Government and local authorities of doing too little to protect homes.

Last year the Government cut the Environment Agency's flood defence budget by £15million.

Although it has since announced a rise in spending from £600million to £800million, the extra cash will not be available until 2010.

The Environment Agency, under fire from MPs earlier this year for its inadequate flood defences, called for more cash.

Chief executive Baroness Young, a Labour peer, said £1billion a year was needed.

She admitted: "It will take some time to get flood defences in place and it won't completely remove the risk of flooding."

Tory leader David Cameron, visiting flood victims in his Witney constituency, said defences had been "sorely lacking".
If you're going to live in a flood plain be prepared for floods.
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