Floodwaters recede, but more rain is on the way

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The Independent Online

When the brown muddy water engulfing Christine Reynolds's 17th-century cottage receded, she found two goldfish on her kitchen floor. "They had been carried there from our pond in the garden," she said, beaming. "And they were still alive!"

When the brown muddy water engulfing Christine Reynolds's 17th-century cottage receded, she found two goldfish on her kitchen floor. "They had been carried there from our pond in the garden," she said, beaming. "And they were still alive!"

The Reynolds family was among hundreds yesterday trying to clean up the mess caused by last week's floods in the south of England. After two days of anxiously watching flood waters turn into dangerous chest-high torrents outside their door in Yalding, Kent, they saw them recede on Saturday morning, leaving behind the task of counting the cost of the worst floods since 1967.

"So much is ruined," Mrs Reynolds said. "We carried as much as we could upstairs but the ground floor and basement flooded - it was swirling like a washing machine down there and everything was thrown around and broken. It's not just the big things, like the washing machine and tumble drier, but important little things, too, like the Christmas decorations we've had for years."

There was a feeling in Yalding yesterday that the worst was over, even though another inch of rainfall was expected overnight and the Environment Agency warned of potentially severe flooding in areas around the rivers Medway, Teise, Lesser Teise, Beult, Eden and Bourne, and the Uck and Ouse in East Sussex.

In villages around the Medway, teams of firefighters were pumping out water from basements while gas and electricity workers restored supplies and carried out safety checks, yet the streets were dry and the sun was shining.

In East Sussex there was extra concern over sewage pollution, made worse by the failure of the Lewes-Newhaven pumping station.

Ann Widdecombe, the shadow Home Secretary and MP for Maidstone and The Weald, was in Yalding yesterday, wearing wellington boots and offering to help. "I was here on Friday and things are much better now, but there has been an awful lot of damage," she said. "The main thing is for the insurance companies to be co-operative. After the 1987 hurricane, they paid up first and argued later. I think they should do that this time too."

That would suit Joe and Rita Morris, landlord and landlady of the 16th-century George Inn. They were forced to take refuge upstairs when the waters of the Teise burst their banks in Yalding and rushed through the pub, ruining carpets, furniture and expensive kitchen equipment.

"I reckon the damage is in five figures," said Mrs Morris. "The water got into all the appliances - fridges, cooker, dishwasher, everything - and it was dirty, so we simply can't use them any more. It's terrible. It will be at least two weeks before we can open again."

Outside Yalding, just yards from the Medway, watermarks showed the river had burst its banks to a height of around six feet. Cabins and caravans in the Hampstead Leisure Park by the river were inundated as rising waters carried off gas bottles, garden furniture, and even wooden sheds. Yesterday, with water levels almost normal, debris could be seen hanging in trees and on fences.

Among owners who had rushed to check on the state of their property was Kathy Hylands of Orpington in Kent. She said: "We just use our caravan as a weekend retreat, but there are others who live in cabins on the site and their homes are ruined. We believe as many as 50 might be told that their cabins aren't fit to go back to."

There could be more chaos to come. "Rivers are getting back to normal but there is a new problem in that one inch of rain is expected," Jo Warburton, spokeswoman for the Environment Agency, said last night. "Our... experts say it is difficult to say what effect it will have. It depends where it falls and its intensity. The feeling is that the river catchment area may have receded enough to take the extra pressure. But we are urging people to remain vigilant."

Even if last night's rains failed to wreak havoc today, weather experts are predicting more heavy downpours in the south of England later in the week, probably on Friday.

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