The Heat Is Online

British Floods Leave $6 Billion in Losses

Historic Oxford sees flood evacuations


Worst seems to be over, but damage across Britain estimated at $6 billion


The Associated Press, July 25, 2007


OXFORD, England - Rising waters forced dozens from their homes in this historic university town Wednesday as the surge from Britain's worst floods in 60 years pushed through southern England.

Firefighters blocked off streets as 4-foot-deep waters from the River Thames moved within a mile of Oxford University, where officials readied sand bags.


Nearly 100 people were evacuated from their homes and taken to Oxford's soccer stadium. Thames Valley Police said the river was expected to crest and more residents were being urged to move to higher ground.


Oxford is laced with waterways, including the River Cherwell, which loops around the east and south side of the university. The Bullstake and Botley streams, which meander through west Oxford before joining the Thames, also were in danger of overspilling their banks.

But at the flooded George Inn pub on Botley Road, a sign proclaimed: "Open for business  come hell or high water."


Oxford University said some colleges in the west and south of the city, where the Thames and its tributaries flooded, had prepared sand bags. Some bags were piled up around the university's music department.


Oxford dug trenches around private houses near open land that the university owns, to protect them from a flooding Thames tributary.

But none of Oxford's many buildings, libraries and 38 colleges had been closed, and large numbers of tourists continued to visit the university. The academic year ended for undergraduates in mid-June.

Residents watched passing emergency vehicles create waves in the water flooding some neighborhood streets.


"It's quite good fun, actually. People are much nicer to each other than they normally are," said Martin Oliver, 47, an employee at the Courtney Pianos store.


Britain has had one of its wettest summers on record  a sharp contrast to last summer, which was one of its driest and hottest. Nearly 5 inches of rain fell in some areas on Friday alone. More rain fell Saturday, Sunday and Monday.


Every time you see the rain come, you think Oh, God, said Valerie Long, as she tore out drenched carpet from her home near the swollen River Thames in Buscot, about 70 miles west of London.


Other areas on alert


While Reading and Caversham  west of London  were under flood warnings, the floods were not expected to reach London.

Waters receded upstream in the hard-hit cities of Tewkesbury and Gloucester, but nearly 350,000 people in the area were without fresh water after a water treatment plant was submerged over the weekend. Authorities said it could be up to two weeks before services were restored.


The heaviest flooding was in Gloucestershire, about 120 miles west of London. Authorities deployed some 900 tanker trucks in the region with emergency water rations.


The Environment Agency said the River Severn at Gloucester crested just inches below a level that would have threatened the city center and a power station serving 500,000 homes.


County officials said some of the tankers had been vandalized amid frustrations over the water supply.


Tewkesburys 900-year-old Norman abbey  shown in aerial shots surrounded by water  said services were continuing despite the floods. Water entered the building, which dominates the town from its elevated perch, for the first time since 1760.


Damage from the flooding could cost insurers more than $6 billion, the Fitch Ratings agency said Tuesday.


One man drowned Tuesday after jumping into the swollen River Great Ouse, and another man was reported missing.


A woman in Tewkesbury lost premature twin babies after going into labor during the flood. With paramedics unable to get to her because of the water, two Royal Air Force helicopters were sent to winch the women and the newborns to safety, police said. They were taken to Cheltenham Hospital, but the twins  born at 21 weeks  died.


'The worst is over'


Although sunshine helped shrink water levels Tuesday, more rain was expected in the next few days. Forecasters, however, said additional flooding wasnt expected.


Rainfall-wise, the worst is over, certainly for the working week, said John Hammond of Met Office, the national weather service.

Queen Elizabeth II sent a message of support to flooded areas, saying she was shocked and deeply concerned by the damage. She thanked the emergency services, military and volunteers and expressed sympathy to all the many people whose homes have been damaged, livelihoods threatened, or who have been affected by the water and power shortages.


Large swaths of land remained waterlogged as emergency workers tried to pump water from affected areas and residents embarked on salvage operations, piling sandbags against doors to keep water out.


We wanted a riverside pub, not a pub in the river, said Stephen Parker, who worked alongside his wife to clean up the Maybush Pub in Newbridge, 60 miles west of London. Plates with leftover roasts still lay on the tables where Sunday afternoon customers left quickly when the River Thames burst its banks.


The Environment Agency, meanwhile, said some steel flood barriers erected since the heavy rains began last week had been targeted by thieves.


I am amazed and absolutely disgusted that anyone would try to steal these barriers that have helped save lives and property, said agency official John Adams.


© 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved