Oxford, England (AFP) Jul 26, 2007
Further water surges were expected in southern England Wednesday as Britain's worst floods in 60 years saw evacuations, the threat of power cuts and a lack of fresh water for thousands. Tributaries feeding the River Thames engulfed several areas in the university city of Oxford overnight. Some 250 homes were evacuated and residents given emergency shelter at a nearby football stadium.
But despite fears that an electricity substation supplying the historic city centre would be submerged, police said widespread blackouts were not now expected, although there had been localised power cuts.
Downstream, the London commuter town of Reading, the royal castle city of Windsor and Henley, famous for its annual rowing regatta, were among other places threatened as river levels were expected to peak in the next 48 hours.
Officials said six severe flood warnings remained in place, but weather forecasters predicted more rain particularly on Thursday, which could further increase river levels.
In a visit to flood-hit areas, Prime Minister Gordon Brown asked emergency crews about their battle to prevent floodwaters from submerging the Walham electricity substation in the neighboring county of Gloucestershire.
"You're doing a great job," Brown told them.
Brown earlier pledged a review of Britain's utilities infrastructure, drainage and flood defences.
The emergency services managed to restore power to more than 48,000 homes in the county of Gloucestershire, where the town of Tewkesbury was cut off by the rising waters of the River Severn.
But although river levels there were said to have peaked, and even dropped in some places, allowing a clean-up to begin, utility Severn Trent said mains water supplies in the county could be off for at least two weeks.
That has triggered emergency measures for the 140,000 homes and more than 350,000 people affected amid concern that sewerage mixed with flood water could pose health hazards, Gloucestershire County Council said Wednesday.
Severn Trent has set up 900 bowsers -- mobile water tankers -- in Tewkesbury and the nearby cities of Cheltenham and Gloucester, while the army has been drafted in to provide four million litres of bottled drinking water.
The council said 1,300 portable toilets were being provided for vulnerable people in places like care homes.
Beer tankers have also been used to provide water to places hardest hit, with the British Beer and Pub Association joking that it has been a reversal of its usual job of turning water into beer.
Meanwhile, police warned that a small minority of people were attempting to profiteer from the high demand for clean water by re-selling water, or emptying bowsers with large receptacles.
"That is theft, and that is being treated as theft," said Tim Brain, Gloucestershire police's chief constable.
The floods in central and western England come less than a month after large swathes of northern England were hit by massive downpours that caused flash floods, cut off towns and affected transport networks.
In the latest cases, rivers topped levels reached during floods in 1947.
Environment Secretary Hilary Benn has promised an extra 10 million pounds (14.9 million euros, 20.5 million dollars) on top of the current 14 million pounds available to local councils.
Brown said a total of 46 million pounds would be available for areas hit in both flooding incidents.
Analysts have estimated the floods could cost the insurance industry three billion pounds and hit farmers and food crops.
Source: Agence France-Presse
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