Deluge threatens to swell the nation's rivers

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The Independent Online

Britain's biggest fight with the elements for more than 50 years was continuing last night after a day of more flooding and evacuations.

Britain's biggest fight with the elements for more than 50 years was continuing last night after a day of more flooding and evacuations.

The Environment Agency issued 41 severe flood warnings and predicted that the situation could get worse. Many communities were waiting last night to see if the deluge of rain that fell on Sunday night would further swell rivers, causing them to burst their banks.

The agency said yesterday evening that in the North-east 40mm of rain had fallen in 12 hours, while a further 25mm was expected to have fallen by midnight last night. Seven severe flood warnings have been issued for the region.

The heaviest rainfall was in Plumpton, East Sussex, where 60mm fell in 12 hours, swamping much of an area already hard-hit by flooding.

In Yorkshire, river levels were also rising after 30mm of rain fell on the upper reaches of all rivers in North Yorkshire. The city of York, from which hundreds of people were evacuated recently, was "on a knife edge" as a second wave of severe flooding was forecast.

Just as the level of the Ouse was going down last night, experts said they were expecting it to rise again and that it would peak later today at 5.2 metres - close to the levels it reached last week.

In one of the county's worst hit areas, the local council introduced a tractor and trailer "bus" service between the market towns of Norton and Malton, which were cut off by the Derwent river.

"People were running very low on supplies and needed to get out and about to go shopping, collect prescriptions and check on relatives," a spokesman for Ryedale Council in North Yorkshire said. "The service is proving vital in helping the community get back on its feet."

The Environment Agency said the situation in south-west England had improved, although about 100 homes were evacuated in Dorchester, Dorset, where the river Frome was at its highest level yet.

In the Commons, Elliot Morley, the minister responsible for flood precautions and coastal defences, said he had asked the Environment Agency for a full report on lessons to be learnt from the flooding.

His announcement came on the day The Independent revealed that a report to ministers five months ago warned of the need for an urgent increase in the amount spent on flood defences.

"We cannot stop all flooding, just reduce its risk," Mr Morley said. "The recent floods have overwhelmed some defences. It would not have been practicable to have stopped them.

"It would have required massive walls which, even if they could have been constructed and afforded would be unlikely to be acceptable visually or environmentally."

Around Britain there were stories of people being forced to improvise to beat the effects of the flooding.

Residents of a cul-de-sac in south Wales had to use a system of ladders to help them escape after a landslide. No cars could leave or enter Rectory Close in Gilwern, near Abergavenny, and it was impossible to get through on foot. Residents instead set up a series of stepladders to allow people to climb over garden walls and on to a main road.

One resident, Colin Griffiths, 62, said: "We were sitting in the house watching television when there was a roar that sounded like thunder.

"We went out to look and the embankment had fallen down on to the road. One of our cars was crushed by the debris and the other is trapped in the garage.

"But we are very lucky. If someone had been in the road the outcome would have been a lot worse."

In Hampshire, the worst affected area was along the river Meon, which burst its banks, flooding the villages of Exton and West Meon. In Surrey, the town of Leatherhead was cut off and shops forced to close after the river Mole burst its banks.

In Mold, north Wales, a dozen pensioners had to be rescued by lifeboat when they woke to find 2ft of water in their homes.

Weather forecasters are predicted more rain and drizzle for much of Britain, although large amounts of rain are not generally anticipated. Drier brighter weather should arrive by Thursday, they said.

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