Towns on the Severn face repeat of floods

Towns and villages along the river Severn and the Welsh border are facing a repeat of last month's flood devastation as Britain's wettest-ever autumn continues its sodden course.

Towns and villages along the river Severn and the Welsh border are facing a repeat of last month's flood devastation as Britain's wettest-ever autumn continues its sodden course.

Five days of rain across the Cambrian Mountains, the source of the river Severn, have pushed levels of Britain's longest river dangerously high and last night severe flood warnings were in force along an unprecedented 90 miles of its valley. Severe flood warnings are also in force on two Severn tributaries, the Vyrnwy and the Teme, and on the Severn's southern neighbour, the Wye. Rivers in Hampshire and Sussex are also at dangerous levels, with the risk worsened last night by further downpours and strong winds.

On the Somerset Levels, the marshy plain near Bridgwater, several villages are threatened and yesterday 75 households were warned they might have to be evacuated.

High tides and possible storm surges are also increasing the flood risk; it is feared the Severn estuary will be particularly affected, with two severe flood warnings in force on the tidal section of the river, for Gloucester and the village of Severn Beach near Bristol.

As the rain of the past few days continues, river levels are expected to peak in the next 48 hours. Forecasters said a further inch of rain is likely in many areas, with nearly two inches or more possible over some hills in Wales and western England.

Flooding had already begun last night in some of the towns that were hard hit by the inundations of the first week of November, including Worcester, Shrewsbury and the small town of Bewdley. In Worcester, the cricket ground had become a lake and residents of part of the town were further distressed when they found they were being swamped with sewage.

"I opened the curtains this morning to find chunks of poo floating in the street," said a Worcester resident, Mary Dhonau.

"My house is stinking, my neighbours' houses are stinking, and I'm near to tears. We've got Christmas around the corner and I can't even think about buying presents. All I want is to get back to normal. We can't cope any more."

In Bewdley, residents of two streets flanking the river who were swamped for the best part of a week last month, and whose houses are only now starting to dry, were dismayed last night to see the waters of the Severn spread up to their front doors once more. It is quite likely that they will soon be under several feet of water.

A number of people have had remarkable escapes during the latest downpour, including a mother and her baby saved from the freezing waters of a swollen river.

Andrew Prout and Darren Ing formed a human chain to drag the woman from the river Leaden in Dymock, Gloucestershire, after she fell in with her baby.

The woman, in her thirties, who has not been named by police, was hiking with a friend when a wooden footbridge collapsed and she slipped into the swirling river. She was carrying her eight-month-old infant in a papoose on her back and had to stand in 4ft of freezing water for more than 15 minutes, supporting her baby while suffering a fractured shoulder as her friend went to get help.

"If the water had been any higher I don't think they would have been able to save the woman and her baby," said Mr Prout's father Dave, 67.

Eight severe flood warnings were in place across England and Wales last night, and 72 of the lesser flood warnings.

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