Blair weathers the hecklers in flying visit to region under water

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The Independent Online

Worcester became a divided city yesterday when the main bridge across the river Severn was closed because of flooding.

Worcester became a divided city yesterday when the main bridge across the river Severn was closed because of flooding.

After 24 hours during which people in the cathedral city had anxiously watched as the waters rose and spread, the emergency services took the decision in the morning, and by lunchtime the right bank was separated from the left. The rugby pitch and the County Ground may have been under six foot of water, but at least the swans were having a field day.

Surveying the scene in anorak and Wellington boots, Jim Pithouse, the local council's senior town planner, said: "I have been working here for more than 20 years and this is the worst I have ever seen it.

"Traditionally we wait to get the floods after Shrewsbury and other places up river, so we have just been waiting for this to arrive. It takes two or three days to arrive and two or three days to disappear."

Last night forecasters were predicting more severe weather for the Severn area this weekend, but in Worcester the damage had already been done. More than 100 properties had been affected by the floods, while the Worcester Royal Infirmary was forced to move 67 patients when water poured into the basement.

Worcester was only one of several Severn communities to be rocked by the floods. As residents in Shrewsbury continued to bale out their flooded homes, in Bewdley, 10 miles north of Worcester, locals wanting to cross the town were forced to make a five mile detour after the road to the main bridge was submerged. About 200 homes and businesses have been flooded by waters that peaked at 5.6 metres above normal - nearly five metres more than the winter average.

Visiting Bewdley as part of a tour of the flood-hit region, the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was heckled by activists campaigning to save nearby Kidderminster General Hospital. Paul Humphries, a senior lecturer at University College, Worcester, shouted at the Prime Minister: "I hope you don't fall into the water, Tony, because there's nowhere to go to. The A&E is shut."

Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust said rising water levels meant electricity and heating supplies could not be guaranteed so the orthopaedic, head and neck patients were transferred to other locations. A hospital spokesman, Roger Job, said: "There is quite a threat to Castle Street. The water is rising in that direction. Worst case scenario is that the whole site could close."

Down by the river itself, there was some debate as to whether the water was now rising or falling.

"It's hard to say - it may have peaked," said Charles Robinson, a property manager, who had just helped move threeelderly women from flats near the river. "By the time they were taken away they were reaching out to feed the swans from their balconies, which are normally 20ft above the ground."

But one thing that everyone agreed on was that these were the worst floods since 1947 - the level of which is marked on a wall close to the cathedral. Unfortunately, the path leading to the spot was impassable without a mask and snorkel.

In their red-brick cottage next to the river, Dennis and Doris Duffy, were baling water out of their cellar. "There have been all sorts of things floating down the river.

"Yesterday I think I saw part of the scoreboard from the cricket ground go past," said Mrs Duffy.

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