The Heat Is Online

Europe Battered By Heat Waves, Downpours

Weather Extreme Hit Southeast Europe, England

 

Agence France Presse, July 22, 2007

 

Extreme weather hit Europe Saturday as the death toll from a heat wave in Romania, Austria and Bulgaria rose to 18 and hundreds faced another night of misery in flood-drenched England.

 

A total of 11 people have now died in Romania amid a heat wave which led to five deaths in Austria and two in Bulgaria.

In England, meanwhile, the problem was not heat but rain, causing the second serious outbreak of flooding within a month.

People in many parts of the country were being advised not to travel, while Prime Minister Gordon Brown stepped in to praise the "superb" work of the armed forces and emergency services tasked with handling the response.

Rail company First Great Western told would-be passengers to stay at home, while thousands of motorists were stranded for hours as motorways in some parts of the country came to a standstill.

Weather forecasters the Met Office had severe weather warnings in place across a thick band of south-eastern and eastern England.

And in Worcestershire, in the badly hit west central of the country, more than 1,000 people were spending Saturday night in temporary accomodation. Some 2,000 in the region slept away from home Friday night.

Military helicopters have rescued more than 100 people from house rooftops, caravan parks and a bridge as well as strips of land cut off by water since rains hit on Friday, rescue officials said.

At Stratford-upon-Avon in central England, the Royal Shakespeare Company was forced to cancel two performances after its riverside theatre was flooded.

A spokesman for forecaster MeteoGroup said that more storms were looming later Saturday and Sunday, although on a less severe scale.

Some 141 domestic and international flights leaving from and arriving to London's Heathrow Airport were cancelled because of the rains on Friday, and passengers were being re-issued tickets on Saturday, an airport spokesman said.

The spokesman said flights were running normally on Saturday.

Stewart Wortley, a meteorologist at the Met Office, refuted suggestions in front-page newspaper headlines that the storms hitting Britain resembled monsoons in India.

"Whilst they are unusual to be widespread like this, they're not totally unusual. They have happened before," Wortley told AFP.

He said 142.6 millimetres (5.6 inches) of rain fell in Pershore, Worcestershire on Friday, far short of the 279 milimetres (10.9 inches) that fell in Martinstown, Dorset on July 18, 1955 -- the daily record in England.

In another comparison, he said, some 43 milimetres (1.6 inches) of rain fell in one hour in south London on Friday, but the record for one hour was 92 milimetres (3.6 inches) in July 1901 in Maidenhead, in Berskshire.

The latest bad weather came after four people died in floods in June, and thousands of people are still homeless after flood damage in central and northern England.

In southeast Europe, several countries were wilting under baking temperatures.

In Romania, the number of people who died as a result of a week-long heat wave rose to 11, while in Austria, five deaths have been blamed on heat.

In Hungary, the temperature hit an all-time record of 41.9 degrees Celsius (107 Fahrenheit) at Kiskunhalas, 130 kilometres (81 miles) south of the capital Budapest, the national weather service (OMSZ) said.

Bulglaria has endured a five-day heat wave that has sparked forest fires and left two people dead.

© AFP

 

Thousands without fresh water as floods bring chaos

 

The Guardian (U.K.), July 23, 2007

 

More than 350,000 people are facing days without fresh water supplies and a clean-up operation lasting months as devastating floods this weekend left communities cut off across central and southern England.

 

Last night waters were still rising in several parts of the country as the Severn and Thames threatened to burst their banks in Gloucester and Oxford, bringing more chaos to a region where hundreds of people have been evacuated after downpours which began on Friday and swept the country over the weekend.

 

Today Hilary Benn, the environment secretary, will make an emergency statement to the Commons and Gordon Brown's first monthly press conference as prime minister is certain to be dominated by criticism about the speed of the response to the latest flooding. He is expected to visit flood affected areas this morning, though Downing Street declined to reveal exactly where he would go. In developments yesterday:

 

· More people were airlifted to safety in one of the RAF's biggest peacetime operations and the army distributed aid to thousands cut off by rising water in Upton upon Severn, Worcestershire and Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire;

 

· Eight severe flood warnings were in place overnight, including in Oxfordshire, Berkshire and parts of London, and a second peak in water levels was predicted for tonight;

 

· The government defended its handling of the crisis, but the chief executive of the Environment Agency, Lady Young, said it would cost £1bn a year to prevent further flooding, and predicted worsening conditions in future due to climate change;

 

· Severn Trent Water said 150,000 homes are without water in Gloucestershire and about 250,000 more residents of Gloucester, Cheltenham and Tewkesbury could be without clean water for the next 72 hours after a treatment plant was flooded;

 

· The Red Cross was called in to help evacuate 20 patients from Tewkesbury hospital;

 

· Oxford and Gloucester were braced for further flooding from the Thames and the Severn. In Gloucester water levels were at 34 feet, just 12 inches below flood defences.

 

The government was facing criticism for being unprepared for the floods, which have devastated communities and led to more than 2,000 people spending the night in emergency shelters after almost two months of rain fell in one day on Friday. Forecasters predicted the downpour on Wednesday.

 

The Conservative leader, David Cameron, whose Witney constituency in Oxfordshire is one of those badly affected, said serious questions needed to be asked about Britain's flood defence systems. "People want answers," he said.

 

The Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, said: "It was known for some days that this was likely to happen. I think there'll be questions asked about the degree of preparedness there was to meet what is obviously a very, very dramatic outcome."

 

The Environment Agency defended its response amid claims that defences were not in place. Lady Young, its head, said it could not protect people against "unpredictable" rainfall and the onus was on local authorities to improve flood defences .

 

"The big challenge is for local authorities and their water companies to take a longer look, a 25-year look at the drainage systems in their cities and urban areas because clearly they are piecemeal over a number of years, insufficient for the number of rain events we have been seeing recently," she said.

 

The floods come less than a month after seven people were killed as swathes of northern England were devastated by water. In Hull, 20,000 homes were damaged and an estimated 7,000 people are still staying in hotels, emergency centres or with relatives and friends.

Doncaster saw 5,000 properties damaged, while Sheffield endured £30m worth of damage.

 

The government's civil emergencies committee Cobra met yesterday and ministers began to visit the parts of the country worst affected by the flooding.

 

Mr Benn said the emergency was not yet over. Visiting Worcester, he said residents should brace themselves for more flooding as further rain was predicted. Today, the rain could move further south and up to an inch is likely to fall on areas around the Thames.

 

He brushed off suggestions that there were not enough troops available to help deal with the crisis, insisting he had full confidence in the Environment Agency and that military help was available to local authorities and emergency services. There had been a cut in the agency's forward planning budget, he said, but capital expenditure was being increased from £600m to £800m by 2010-11.

 

People began panic-buying water in Gloucestershire yesterday. The town was cut off, with police using six boats to ferry people in and out, and the hospital was evacuated.

 

Police said car thieves and flood sight-seers were becoming a problem for the emergency services conducting rescue operations.

 

A West Mercia constabulary spokesman said many stranded vehicles had been broken into and urged motorists to collect them as soon as possible.

 

Shona Arora, director of public health for Gloucestershire, advised people to conserve water and not to panic buy.

 

She asked people not to take baths or try to clean up flood damage, as that would use up the water supply from the mains system. She also advised parents to stop their children from playing in floodwater.

 

Thousands flee rising waters in U.K.

Forecasters warn water levels could rise to critical levels

 

MSNBC News Services, July 23, 2007

 

LONDON - Swollen rivers from torrential rain forced thousands of people from their homes, and forecasters warned Monday that water levels could rise to critical levels.

 

In Gloucestershire county, 70,000 homes have had water supplies cut due to potential contamination from river runoff, and up to 140,000 homes may be affected in the coming days. More than 40,000 homes in the area had their electricity supplies cut early on Monday after a nearby power station was shut down.

 

Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that the government will formally review flooding prevention strategies, concentrating on drainage and protecting infrastructure from further flooding.

 

During a tour of Gloucestershire, Brown also announced increased funding for flood and coastal defenses across the country.

 

Insurers estimate claims for flood damage could top $4 billion, on top of an estimated $3 billion  of claims after floods in June in central and northern England.

 

Helicopter airlifts

 

The monsoon-like rainfall over the past month has led to mass evacuations, severely affected transport and threatened water supplies.

 

In some towns cars and trucks were abandoned after streets turned into waterways. Emergency crews in small boats have been handing out drinking water and evacuating the elderly and young.

 

More than 2,000 people spent Sunday night in emergency shelters and the Royal Air Force and coast guard helicopters were called in over the weekend to airlift hundreds to safety in one of Britain's largest peacetime rescue operations.

 

"I'm afraid to say that I don't think we have seen the peak yet," John Harman of Britain's Environment Agency told BBC radio.

 

"All this water that we have seen ... is now into the river system. Even though the rain has eased off a bit ... it's the water in the rivers now that constitutes a threat."

 

The agency warned water levels could rise to a critical level, and issued nine severe flood warnings across the country.

 

Peak expected Tuesday

 

It said it was focusing on western counties where the rivers Thames and Severn are swollen to dangerous levels.

 

Meteorologists say the rain is not expected to peak until Tuesday, meaning further water and electricity shortages are likely, the agency said.

 

The situation is looking critical at the moment. Unfortunately the misery is set to continue, said Environment Agency spokesman Joe Giacomelli.

 

He said all those in severe flood warning areas were advised to evacuate.

 

Train routes in several areas have been suspended, and replacement bus services have been canceled because of waterlogged roads.

 

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.