Worst-hit flood areas face more downpours and water rationing

Thousands of people in some of the worst-hit flood areas of the country were last night warned to boil drinking water after extreme weather conditions were blamed for contaminating supplies with bacteria.

Thousands of people in some of the worst-hit flood areas of the country were last night warned to boil drinking water after extreme weather conditions were blamed for contaminating supplies with bacteria.

More than 25,000 people in the south-east of England were advised of the danger and warned that if the contamination continued, water rationing might have to be introduced to conserve supplies.

The Dover and Folkestone Water Services company said it had issued the warning after a sample taken from its aquifer at Kingsdown failed a routine test. Supplies from the aquifer were immediately shut off and the warning was issued to 10,000 homes.

But with yet more rain forecast for much of Britain, such instances of contaminated supply may become more widespread.

"In the short term we just need to have a 24-hour period with an all-clear and we can re-open the source," said Peter Darby, managing director of the French-owned company. "But in the long term if there is more heavy rain, as is predicted, the problem could get worse."

He said in extreme circumstances the company might have to introduce rationing.

Last night Three Valleys Water, which supplies more than three million people throughout the Thames valley area from Essex to Bedfordshire, called on their customers to use water "wisely" in order to conserve supplies.

The warning was made as the Environment Agency said worse was still to come in some areas as forecasters predicted up to another inch of rain in the next 24 hours.

The number of severe flood warning issued by the agency has fallen from 33 to 14 and Yorkshire and the river Severn are now the worst affected areas. Shrewsbury, York and Leeds all suffered flooding yesterday.

In three villages in North Yorkshire, residents were last night preparing for a repeat of the floods that hit their homes 18 months ago.

Personal belongings were being moved to safety as villagers in Malton, Norton and Stamford Bridge prepared to evacuate their homes. In March last year, more than 100 homes in the villages were flooded when the river Derwent burst its banks.

Tina Gibson, a barmaid at the Royal Oak pub in Malton's marketplace, said: "Things are looking very grim. It's still raining here at the moment and it's only a couple of feet from where the levels got to last year.

"The mood is very sombre and a lot of people are just resigned to things. They are being moved out of their homes again. The boats are out again and we are fearing the worst."

Environment Agency chairman Sir John Harman said flooding on the Severn and in Yorkshire would get worse before it got better.

"We are already dealing with floods which, in geographical extent, are probably the most widespread since the great floods of 1947 and in some places as severe.

"The misery is set to continue," he said.

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