Floods stiffen upper lips as Britain fights the elements

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The Independent Online
CLOSED roads and airports, suspended rail services, pet rescues, tea and biscuits for the police and fire brigade, cancelled funerals, regulars rowing to their local, and increased use of the word 'Dunkirk' . . .

It all means that weather, severe weather, is hitting England, making travel impossible, homes uninhabitable and causing an estimated pounds 60m worth of damage. And the outlook for this week is of worse to come.

The London Weather Centre forecasts more rain and more flooding, and the prospect that the severe conditions in the South will move north.

The National Rivers Authority had 111 flood warnings in force last night, with red alerts on the Great Ouse, at Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamshire, and the River Lavant, at Chichester, Wessex Sussex.

Vast acreages of agricultural land are under water and in in Hampshire, thawing snow and ice, followed by freezing temperatures, have left numerous roads 'like ice rinks', according to the police.

Although the downpour eased off yesterday, allowing rivers to subside, the weather centre warned that more rain is expected in Wales and the south of England. Any relief would 'only be temporary', a spokesman said.

'A further band of rain is due on Monday which will come across the country from the West and will bring snow on high ground in the North. This is bound to bring more problems,' said the Met Office.

In the United States, such conditions would have prompted a state of emergency. But in England, one councillor in West Sussex explained: 'We don't do it that way. The Green Goddesses are out. Everyone is pulling together. It's like that advert - there's no need to make a drama out of a crisis.'

In Chichester, one of the worst affected areas with extensive floods, a fleet of 20 Green Goddess fire engines were brought in to help pump water into the sea. The police reported yesterday that as fast as water could be pumped away from homes and roads it seemed to be returning just as quickly.

A police spokesman said: 'Everyone living here has been very patient and there seems to be a real community spirit, with people supplying the police and fire officers with tea and biscuits. It's a bit like being back in the war.' A fleet of 20 Green Goddess fire engines from a nearby civil defence centre have has been drafted in to help pump water into the sea.

Another 59 flood warnings were in force throughout Hampshire, the Isle of Wight, Kent and Sussex. The NRA's director of operations, Dr Kevin Bond, said his staff were working against time to prevent further flooding in Lincolnshire. NRA flood defence stations on the Somerset Levels have been pumping about a billion gallons of water a day into the sea: in Exeter, the Exe was being protected by a pounds 20m flood defence scheme diverting 950 million gallons into relief channels; river levels were critical in the Somerset catchment area; the NRA described the outlook in London for this week as 'critical'.

In Gloucestershire, landlady Sally Day has had her pub, the Yew Tree, at Chaceley Green, surrounded by water for four weeks: 'We used to be 25 yards from the River Severn. Now we're six inches from it.'

In Berkshire the town clerk of Thatcham, Peter Rusted, was considering whether to postpone funerals as flood waters swept in to cemeteries filling graves as fast they were being dug. The local cemetery director feared coffins would go 'bob, bob, bobbing down the road'.

Mr Rusted said: 'We've got four open graves at the moment. They are filling rapidly with water as soon as we dig them. We've got two pumps.'

BAD weather hampered rescue attempts at the site of an air crash on the Wrekin near Wellington, Shropshire. Two people died in the crash.

(Photograph omitted)