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Insurers count cost of Easter floods

PEOPLE living in the Midlands and East Anglia breathed a sigh of relief yesterday as river experts announced that the flooding is almost certainly over.

A spokesman for the Environment Agency said: "The great floods of 1947 were the worst in living memory. That level of flood happens about once a century. But what we have seen over the weekend should be the sort of thing that happens only once in 150 years."

He added: "We are cautiously optimistic that the worst is now over. But river levels will remain high for the next 48 hours and it will take some days to get back to normality."

Owners of homes and businesses in towns including Leamington Spa and Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire, Evesham in Worcestershire, Northampton and Bedford, continued the mop-up operation yesterday.

Peterborough was the last major centre of population to feel the force of the flood, but the Environment Agency said the city had not suffered as badly as it had feared.

Though further flooding is unlikely, the unseasonable weather is set to continue, with the prospect of more snow today in some regions.

Insurers said they would be able to pay out an estimated pounds 400m damages bill without any dramatic knock-on effect on the cost of premiums, dismissing claims that premiums could soar by up to 35 per cent to meet the massive losses.

Jeffery Salmon, chairman of Salmon Assessors, an insurance claim negotiator, claimed that the final bill for the flooding could be greater than the pounds 1.2bn paid out after 1987 hurricane: "We believe it's going to be somewhere between pounds 1.2bn and pounds 1.5bn.

But the Association of British Insurers (ABI) described these estimates as "absolute rubbish". Tony Baker, the ABI's deputy director, said: "It is not that big an event for the insurance industry to be faced with a bill for pounds 300-500m. We have faced bigger. Money is set aside. That's what the industry is here for. There will be no significant effect on premiums."