Worst floods in 60 years hang on in England

The first sign of the flood for John Burrow came in a trickle, like sand through an hourglass, when water began incongruously to spill from the mail slots in the houses on the far side of Bridge Street.

Worst floods in 60 years hang on in England
Then it began to cascade, powered by the force of the swollen Windrush River, which had finally overflowed its banks after weeks of relentless rain.

The water poured through every crevice it could find, thundering across the road and into Burrow's house, where more than one foot, or a third of a meter, of it poured into his living room and kitchen.

By Tuesday, the water had receded, leaving behind a pile of soggy, broken furniture, a kitchen full of useless appliances and a terrible smell.

But he and the other waterlogged residents of this small Oxfordshire village were actually lucky, in the scheme of things. Great swaths of Britain remained under water, following the worst floods in 60 years.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 350,000 people across Gloucestershire were spending their third day without running water; many had also been without electricity for some time.

Whole towns, like the beautiful medieval Tewkesbury, have become islands, surrounded by muddy water. With the Severn, Thames and other rivers already at full capacity, and more rain on the way, severe flood warnings remained in effect in many parts of the country.

Trains were operating on emergency schedules, or not running at all, and many of the roads between Worcester and Gloucester were closed.

People stranded in their houses or in cars were being hoisted to safety by helicopters. The government warned that the crisis was far from over.

Officials said that the flooding had already surpassed that of the winter of 1947, when sudden mild weather melted frozen rivers and sent water cascading into the Midlands, East Anglia and North Yorkshire. But in a country that loves to complain about the weather, the summer of 2007 has been of a different magnitude.

The rain has come in torrents, culminating in a monsoon-like downpour last Friday that dumped nearly five inches, or 13 centimeters, of water in some parts of the country.

Thousands of motorists were stranded on highways, and thousands of homeowners were flooded out of their houses that night. But things only got worse on Saturday.

"I've never known rain like that, ever, ever, " said Burrow's daughter, Francesca, who was helping clear the mess from her parents' home Tuesday. "It was torrential rain, like rain you would get in Bali, hour after hour after hour."

The government has said it would increase financing for floods and coastal defenses.

"It is pretty clear that some of the 19th-century structures and infrastructure, and where they were sited, is something we will have to review," Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Monday.

Many of the rivers were expected to reach their peaks in the next day or two. Officials have warned that parts of the Thames were on the verge of bursting their banks.

London itself is protected by several flood-defense measures, most notably the Thames Barrier to the east.

As for Burrow, he said the worst part of being flooded was the struggle to evacuate his cats, one of whom jumped into the water in fear.

Finally, he corralled them into cat boxes provided by the Witney fire department and, led by several firefighters, he waded through the river that had been the road, being careful not to fall into a manhole, since their covers had been ripped off by the force of the water.

"I wasn't scared, as long as I could wade along the road," he said. "And the war was worse."

Brown connected the flooding to global climate change, but meteorologists were circumspect.

"I wouldn't put this flooding and this poor summer down to any single event," said Dave Britton, chief press officer of the United Kingdom Met Office in Exeter.

Others said a more direct factor probably was the more southerly course of the jet stream this summer.

There is a "La Niña" scenario, said Omar Baddour of the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva, in which unusually cool Pacific Ocean waters off Peru and unusually warm waters off Australia and Indonesia may prompt changes in the way jet streams behave, including the jet stream above the Atlantic Ocean.

The jet stream is more southerly than usual, Baddour said, and the North Atlantic is warmer than usual.

These changes mean "it's been much more unsettled and wet," said Britton.

Nature magazine reported: "This rainfall is quite unusual, but it's not unprecedented and we still are a long way off the record for heavy rainfall in a single day. We are still looking to see if we will record our wettest ever July after we recorded our wettest ever June since comparable records began in 1914."

IHT

Güncelleme Tarihi: 25 Temmuz 2007, 11:05
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