Flooded Britain faces more misery as new storms loom
Reuters, Nov. 6, 2000
LONDON - A swamped Britain braced for more misery on Sunday as meteorologists warned heavy rains would compound the worst floods the country has seen for 50 years.
Prime Minister Tony Blair said it was time the international community took more steps to tackle climate change - widely blamed on global warming caused by industrial pollution.
"There are serious issues about climate change...We can no longer avoid facing up to this issue on an international level," Blair told BBC radio. "I think the international community for far too long has refused to face up to it."
As Britons struggled to mop up after the flooding - which has forced thousands in the north to abandon their homes - the Environment Agency said southern England was next.
Officials declared the flooding to be the worst in at least 273 years, since reliable records began to be kept.
"We have issued a severe weather warning in the southwest of England and weather warnings for whole country with 50mm of rain due over next 24 hours," a spokeswoman told Reuters. Gale-force winds are forecast to sweep across the south later on Sunday.
"The weather is going to get worse, and with more rain the flood levels will rise," she added, saying retreating flood levels in some areas was "the calm before the storm".
Roads and rail lines remain cut off by the floods in some parts of the country. Around York in the northeast, vast tracts of land have been submerged beneath water while a wall of sandbags helped save the city from the encroaching River Ouse, which reached its highest levels since 1625.
There are some 21 severe flood warnings in effect around England and Wales, mostly around the River Severn in western England and the Ouse.
But British woes don't stop with the floods. The country's transport network is already creaking under the strain of nationwide rail safety checks and repairs after a major crash outside London last month. Fuel protesters, meanwhile, have threatened to throw another spoke into national transport mayhem.
They say they will repeat protests which brought the country to a virtual standstill in September unless the government cuts fuel duties by their November 13 deadline.
To help those worst affected by the flooding, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said he had asked insurance companies in Britain to speed up payments. Flood damage claims are estimated to run to hundreds of millions of pounds (dollars).
"Climate change is having an effect on weather and floods and we've got to do more," Prescott told BBC's Breakfast with Frost.
"I've asked the insurance companies to come in and see if they can readjust their procedures and assessments...(for those) suffering the consequences of the floods."
Experts have warned homeowners the value of properties in flood-prone areas are likely to plummet as a result of the floods - which are becoming increasingly frequent - and insurance premiums on them to soar.
Story by Simon Gardner REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
YALDING, England, Nov. 8 — True, hordes of voracious locusts have not yet emerged from nowhere in a demonstration of divine wrath. But after the rains, the floods, the windstorms and the torrents of raw sewage, the residents of this little country village would not be particularly surprised if they did.
"Do you want to be really depressed?" asked Ian Scott, 55, beckoning down the path of his soggy garden, which did not smell very good, having been deluged by sewage-contaminated water three times in the last month. "I'll show you what's left of our house."
It was a sobering sight. The floor was gone, stripped down to rotting wooden beams. The appliances were gone, having floated down the road or become so waterlogged by filthy water as to be unusable. And Mr. Scott and his wife are more or less gone, too. They are living in a rented house in a nearby village.
Yalding is in a rolling valley in Kent, one of Britain's loveliest counties. Nestled picturesquely at the intersection of three rivers — the Tiese, the Beult and the Medway — it is fortified to withstand the floods that come every year, spilling onto designated flood plains and lapping at doorsteps. But the village has not been at all prepared for the events of this fall: flooding so severe that firefighters have donned wet suits and swum down the street, battling the current, cars have floated away, houses have been destroyed and residents have had to be evacuated by boat.
Nor were people in the rest of the country prepared for what happened to them. On and off since mid-October, Britain has been pummeled by rain, whipped by winds and buffeted by storms that have caused untold millions of dollars in damage, wreaked havoc with roads and trains, and left thousands of people without habitable homes.
At least 12 people have been killed, mostly from trees falling on their cars as they tried to drive through the wind and rain.The army has been frantically distributing sandbags as communities try to shore up their defenses. In York, with water licking at the floor of his 13th-century residence, the archbishop of York said, "I feel like Noah in his ark."
Meanwhile, government officials have begun to speak with a new plainness about the devastating effects of global warming, predicting that the freakish storms that have struck here and much of Western Europe are harbingers of worse to come. So far this autumn, Britain — which was complaining of a drought two years ago — has endured one and a half times the average autumn's rainfall, for the wettest fall since records began 273 years ago.
"The storms and floods being experienced across the U.K. are a wake-up call to the serious environmental threat posed by climate change," the environment minister, Michael Meacher, said today. "Public opinion has underestimated just how drastic and severe these phenomena are, and it has brought it home to people better than a million political speeches."
The floods have had a domino effect. Train travel around much of Britain, already in chaos after a spate of accidents forced officials to cut train speed and to begin an emergency repair program, is now an improvisational prospect at best. On any given day, huge swaths of track might be closed for repairs. Some sections might be covered in water. Others might be littered with leaves and tree branches. And others might be buried in sludge.
It has been doubly difficult for passengers because the train companies do not seem to know day by day, or even hour by hour, which services will be disrupted or for how long.
"Has this put people in a bad mood?" asked a ticket agent at Victoria Station in London the other day, as the voice on the loudspeaker announced that the train to Gatwick Airport had suddenly been canceled because of "speed restrictions" on the line. "Everyone's always in a bad mood anyway, but now they finally have a reason."
The postal service has also been affected, with about 10 million first- class letters — one-eighth the daily total — delayed each day, mostly because the freight trains are running so sluggishly that the mail misses its next connection. In Lewes, Sussex, 35,000 letters and packages were soaked through when the post office was flooded, and then had to be destroyed after it was determined that they had been contaminated with raw sewage.
At the Automobile Association, which monitors road conditions, operators have been scrambling to keep abreast of the latest dismaying information.
"It's been an absolute nightmare here," said Paul Scott, a spokesman for the group. "A lot of main roads, minor roads and whole town centers have been completely cut off in some places. We're having to deal with flood warnings, road closures, and trees falling, added to the usual rush- hour stuff."
In some areas, he advised, it is better to forget your car altogether. "Because of the congestion, and with the roads being blocked, and not being passable at all, the police are saying you might as well stay at home because you're not going to get where you're going anyway," Mr. Scott said.
None of this is really relevant just now to Kelly Bailey, 34, who wandered into the Yalding post office the other day to find out the latest news, as everyone in the village has been doing. (A flood-damage meeting called for Tuesday night was canceled because of new flooding.) Mrs. Bailey has been living in a strange suspended state since the first storm, in October, when the rivers burst their banks and began to roll down the street in an inexorable tidal wave that rose to her knees in a matter of moments.
When that flood came, Mrs. Bailey and her husband were just putting the finishing touches on the interior of the barn they had lovingly converted into a house. The kitchen had just been fitted; the carpets were on their way. The couple, who had been living next door in a trailer, planned to move in before Christmas.
But as they stood, open-mouthed, a low growl turned into a roar and a brown cascade of freezing water began to chase them down the street. "We threw our rabbits and the dog into a truck," Mrs. Bailey recalled. "The kids — the 3-year-old had no underpants on, only a shirt, and the 10- year-old wasn't wearing shoes or socks. The rabbits were squealing with the water coming up into their cages."
The new house is ruined and the Baileys are back in the trailer (the rabbits and dog are living with Mr. Bailey's mother). But it seems that their troubles are not over. Meteorologists predict rain and more rain, and the feeling is that nothing is likely to return to normal anytime soon.
As she looked up at the sky, Mrs. Bailey was not at all happy to see the clouds gathering again."I'm keeping my fingers crossed," she said. "But every time it rains now, I just feel sick."
Britain Flood relief OK'd; more rain forecast
The Boston Globe,Nov. 5, 2000
LONDON - The government announced emergency measures yesterday to cope with severe nationwide flooding as water levels peaked in the northern city of York at the highest level since 1625. After an emergency cabinet meeting, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said the government would streamline financing of flood relief at the local level to ensure that resources are available before more rain, which is expected today, arrives. The government also approved an extra $76.5 million for flood defenses in England over the next four years. (AP)
High winds, heavy rains hit northwestern Europe
The Boston Globe, Reuters News Service,Oct. 31, 2000
LONDON - Rain and gale-force winds lashed northwestern Europe yesterday, with police reporting eight storm-related deaths, mainly from falling trees, in Britain, France, and Ireland.
British officials said the storm was the worst in more than a decade, with the south of the country brought to a near standstill as fallen trees and floods closed roads and rail lines.
Eight people - four in France, three in Britain and one in Ireland - died during the storms Sunday and yesterday, mostly as a result of falling trees.
Air travelers in Britain and France endured long delays, Eurostar trains were shut down and ports were paralyzed on both sides of the English Channel and the North Sea.
Thousands of trees, many of them centuries old, were blown down, and Paris closed all of its parks because of the danger.
A British Meteorological Office spokesman, Colin Donelly, said there had been gusts of up to 93 miles per hour recorded in South Wales, with wind speeds in excess of 60 miles per hour in many places.
The heaviest rainfall was at Larkhill, in Wiltshire, southern England, where 1.9 inches fell between late Sunday and yesterday morning. The storm swept across southern Britain from the Atlantic before sweeping into western Europe.
The port of Dover, one of the main sea entry points to England, was closed for several hours, and about 6,000 passengers were stranded in the English Channel overnight aboard ferries unable to berth because of wind and high seas.
The 14-member crew of the Italian tanker Ievoli Sun was evacuated by helicopter after taking on water off Brittany's Ile d'Ouessant. Rescuers spotted a pool of chemicals from the cargo polluting the waters around the ship.
At Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle airport near Paris, where gusts up to 75 miles per hour swept across the runways, air traffic controllers limited takeoffs and concentrated on getting arriving aircraft safely to the ground, officials said.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
Worst Floods in Years Batter Europe
The weather is much tamer today across southern England and France, but there is more rain in the forecast and that is fueling flood concerns.
The worst storm in years battered the region on Monday with high winds and torrential rain. The weather was blamed for the deaths of at least 15 people and transportation systems were left in a shambles.
Airports were trying to get back on schedule, including London’s Heathrow Airport where scores of flights were cancelled.
Authorities were trying to restore rail service, but many lines were flooded or blocked by fallen trees. The Eurostar train service, which links London with Paris and Brussels, was shut down.
Shipping is still at risk, as conditions at sea remain poor. An Italian tanker foundered today in the English Channel and there are fears that its chemical cargo could cause an environmental disaster.
The 6,000 metric ton load included styrene, a highly toxic chemical used in plastics manufacturing. If the chemicals leak from the tanker, they could be blown toward the French coast.
An Italian military police helicopter crashed in bad weather on a Tuscan island overnight. Six of the officers on board were killed.
Storm runoff is pushing rivers beyond their limits. Severe flood warnings are in place for more than 30 rivers across southern England.
"The flooding is not over. The big rivers are still rising, and we have heavy rain forecast for Wednesday evening," said Geoff Mance, of the Environmental Agency, in an interview with the BBC.
The flood threat forced the evacuation of hundreds of homes. Power crews were working today to restore electricity to more than 100,000 people.
The storm also generated two rare English tornadoes. Two people were hurt when a tornado hit Selsey, in West Sussex, on Monday. The other twister hit the coastal town of Bognor Regis over the weekend.
To the north, it was not rain, but snow that caused problems. Blizzard
conditions clogged roads in Manchester, Cumbria, County Durham and Lancashire.