Tue, Jul 24, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Brown surveys flood sites

MORE RAIN FORECAST The Royal Air Force has carried out its biggest peacetime rescue as tens of thousands of homes have lost power or water

AFP AND THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

British Prime Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited the scene of the nation's worst flooding in 60 years yesterday as thousands of people remained cut off, many without access to clean water or electricity.

With swathes of central and western England under water and more rain on its way, Brown flew in a helicopter over the water-logged county of Gloucestershire before meeting officials handling the response on the ground.

Thousands of homes have been hit by the floods, which have prompted the Royal Air Force to carry out what it said was probably its biggest-ever peacetime rescue operation in the UK, picking up more than 100 people.

The worst hit areas are the counties of Gloucestershire, Worcestershire and Oxfordshire, where nine flood warnings are in place.

There are fears that Britain's two biggest rivers, the Thames and the Severn, could burst their banks, with more chaotic results for homes and businesses.

In Oxford, which is on the Thames, large areas are already under water and scores of schools are closed, a situation likely to worsen if the banks burst.

Compounding the misery, a reported 150,000 homes do not have drinking water after a water treatment plant in historic Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, was closed after becoming deluged.

Noting the irony of the situation, the Daily Mail's headline yesterday read: "Water, water everywhere but ... not a drop to drink!"

The situation led to panic buying of bottled water in the county.

In Gloucestershire and Herefordshire, more than 48,000 homes were without electricity after a power station was shut down because of the flooding.

Amid criticism from opposition parties over the government's handling of the crisis, Environment Secretary Hilary Benn was set to make an emergency statement to lawmakers at the House of Commons yesterday.

The government's emergency planning committee met on Sunday to discuss responses.

The Met Office weather forecasters were predicting more rain in southern England yesterday, although today is set to be drier.

Benn warned on BBC radio that the emergency was "not yet over" and cautioned people to stay away from the water and look out for friends and neighbors.

He insisted that spending on flood defenses had not been cut, adding: "We've been dealing with an unprecedented level of rainfall. This is nature's raw power at work."

Earlier, he told ITV television: "We've seen unprecedented levels of rainfall and flooding that people haven't seen for 60 years."

The Association of British Insurers has predicted that the cost of this bout of flooding, combined with one last month which killed four people, more than ?2 billion (US$4.1 billion).

Meanwhile, the chief executive of the Environment Agency, Lady Young, warned it would cost ?1 billion a year to prevent further flooding, and predicted worsening conditions in future due to climate change.

The opposition Conservative leader, David Cameron, whose constituency in Oxfordshire is one of those badly affected, said serious questions needed to be asked about Britain's flood defense systems.

"People want answers," Cameron said.

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