A brief respite, but the misery is not over yet

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The Independent Online

The man from the Environment Agency predicted the "misery was set too continue" and yesterday his prophecy proved all too accurate.

The man from the Environment Agency predicted the "misery was set too continue" and yesterday his prophecy proved all too accurate.

"I'm still drying my carpets from the flood we had on Monday and now it's going to hit us again," said Margaret Watson as she watched the river at Yalding, Kent, rise perilously close to bursting point.

Her predicament was repeated across the country as rain exacerbated an already desperate situation in many areas.

More than 3,000 properties from Yorkshire to Sussex had been flooded by yesterday, bringing the situation to the scale of the 1947 floods.

Forecasters, saying a third bout of storms was on its way, issued a severe-weather warning for the late weekend, though the situation is expected to calm down for a couple of days.

Fifteen severe-flood warnings remained in place on six rivers last night, plus 145 other alerts. Many roads were flooded, while rail services continued to be badly hit, with Railtrack estimating some repairs would take at least a week.

The discontent felt by many was echoed by hecklers who taunted Tony Blair on a visit to Bewdley, Worcestershire.

One heckler, angry at the closure of a casualty department, cried: "I hope you don't fall into the water, Tony, because there's nowhere to go to. The A&E is shut." After a constant barrage, the Prime Minister turned and replied: "I've got the message."

He flew over some of the seriously hit regions yesterday, accompanied by officials from the Environment Agency, to establish if the Government needs to do more to help emergency services cope.

He also visited Shrewsbury and Yorkshire. "We have to put in the right protection for people against the possibility of floods and work to deal with the issue of climate change."

Archie Norman, shadow Environment Secretary, told a meeting of the Major House Builders Group that largescale building in the countryside had to end. "It has been a contributory factor to the risk of flooding ... The time has come to stop building on our green fields and to concentrate on the major challenge of reviving our inner cities instead. Nature is telling us that enough is enough," he said.

Last night the Severn was causing particular concern, with the threat of flooding looking most acute in Worcestershire. The Environment Agency said waters should have peaked in Shrewsbury, Ironbridge, Bridgenorth and Bewdley by last night but were moving down to Worcester.

Already 150 homes, the racecourse and cricket ground had been flooded by yesterday evening. Darren Page watched with dismay as his ferry came perilously close to being lost as it filled with rainwater. "There is nothing we can do except just sit back and watch it go."

In York, where the flood levels were the third highest for 100 years, a Yorkshire Air Museum fire engine was brought out of retirement to help with pumping out the city centre. The county, already devastated by flooding, had to endure more rain yesterday.

Businesses along the River Ouse in York - which continued to be closely monitored along with the river Derwent - were still mopping up after it burst its banks, while in Malton and Norton 100 properties had to be evacuated.

An Environment Agency spokesman said the Derwent at Stamford Bridge, East Yorkshire, had peaked at 9.85 metres - the highest recorded.

The south of the country also took another battering yesterday. An electrical storm and heavy rains hit London and 350 homes were flooded; two were struck by lighting.

Though the immediate situation began to improve in Kent and East and West Sussex, the number of flood warnings remained at 42 last night.

Environment Agency staff continued to monitor rivers across the two counties as well as Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. The centre of Pulborough, in West Sussex, was closed as 15mm of rain fell on the town in the early morning. Lancing, Selsey, Bognor Regis and Crawley also suffered flooding.

Two severe flood warnings remained in place in Wales on the rivers Dee and Wye.

The AA described driving conditions in the south as treacherous. The M25 was said by some drivers to resemble a river at points. Parts of the M3 and M1 in Bedfordshire and Nottinghamshire were heavily waterlogged.

Yesterday the Meteorological Office said more heavy rain and winds as high as 70mph were expected to hit the country on Sunday evening, with the band of rain moving slowly northwards over the next three days. The Met Office said it had issued the "early warning of severe weather" after spotting a depression in the Atlantic and predicted it could cause more misery for flood-hit areas. The winds would not, however, be as strong or as widespread as last weekend's gales.

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