GLOUCESTER, England - Emergency workers battled to
hold back overflowing rivers after Britain's worst floods in 60 years engulfed
villages and town streets and cut off fresh water supplies to hundreds of
thousands of people.
Days of pouring rain have turned wide areas of central and western England
into lakes, flooding 4,500 houses, threatening many more and leaving cars
submerged. Harvesting of crops such as barley and rapeseed has been delayed and
milk production and deliveries curtailed, sparking fears of food shortages.
In the western city of Gloucester, Ken Ticehurst, 41, said police had been
guarding the doors to a local supermarket to stop panic buying of bottled water.
"There's a weird feeling of being under siege," he told Reuters.
A woman airlifted out of the flooded nearby town of Tewkesbury on Saturday
after giving birth prematurely to twins lost her babies, police said.
Only one other death has been blamed on the latest floods -- a 64-year-old
man who died in a flooded cellar in Cumbria, northwest England, last week.
Environment Secretary Hilary Benn told parliament the swollen Severn river
had now peaked.
The Thames river would peak further down-river in the next 24 to 36 hours and
flooding in towns west of London such as Henley and Reading "may be
unavoidable", he said.
He added that there could be further heavy rain in flood-affected areas in
the coming days.
Freak downpours have left many Britons, more used in recent years to record
high summer temperatures, wondering if they are witnessing the impact of global
warming. Other parts of Europe are enduring a heatwave that has killed 18 people
in Romania and forced Greece to call a state of emergency.
Police, firefighters and the military fought a successful all-night battle to
hold back floodwaters from an electricity substation that supplies power to half
a million people in the western English county of Gloucestershire.
Flood victims in Gloucester began returning home to survey the damage. "It
was horrible going through the door again," said student Sophie Pittaway. "Newts
were in the house. I feel numb, I don't know what to do."
Some 140,000 homes were without water after a water treatment works at
Tewkesbury was flooded. The army was distributing three million litres a day of
bottled drinking water to local residents.
Insurers said these and June floods in northern England could raise claims of
up to 2 billion pounds ($4 billion).
The government has promised more money to help with drainage and flood
defences, but it has been criticised for failing to act sooner to tackle
failings in its flood defence plans.
Scientists blame the heavy rains in Britain on the jetstream, a fast-moving
air current that is more southerly than usual this year, bringing with it stormy
weather. They are divided over whether the floods also reflect global warming.
"Extreme events such as we have seen in recent weeks herald the spectre of
climate change and it would be irresponsible to imagine that they won't become
more frequent," Nick Reeves, executive director of The Chartered Institution of
Water and Environmental Management, a scientific group, said.
But Alastair Borthwick, an engineering professor at Oxford University, said
there was not enough data to judge whether climate change was a factor in the