More rain forecast as floods cause chaos

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ANOTHER night of torrential rain, adding to the disruption caused by yesterday's thunderstorms and floods, was predicted by meteorologists last night.

Homes were sandbagged in areas of East Anglia still under a 'red alert' as the river Ouse threatened to overflow. The rain was expected to move in from Ireland overnight and to be particularly heavy in the East.

Yesterday, rivers broke their banks and hundreds of people were evacuated from homes and cars. But the National Rivers Authority warned that the extreme weather would not cure the drought. Nina Miller of the NRA said: 'It is still not enough. Most of this water will go into rivers and then on into the sea.

'It will not get down into the underground reservoirs where we need it most and that means the drought goes on.'

The storms are part of the same weather system that triggered flash floods which killed at least 32 people on Tuesday in France.

Hardly any areas of England and Wales escaped. There were heavy showers in the Midlands and Yorkshire but the worst affected areas were Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Lincolnshire and north London. Some villages were virtually cut off. Electricity supplies and transport services were disrupted, preventing many people from reaching work.

The RAC said patrols were deluged with emergency calls from stranded drivers and the AA said call-outs doubled.

Firemen dealt with nearly 600 flood-related calls in London during Tuesday night. In Edgware, north London, a stream overflowed its banks, flooding several streets with up to four feet of water. Police in rubber dinghies rescued four pensioners from their homes and evacuated 21 others from an old people's home.

A London fire brigade spokeswoman said: 'It's absolute chaos.' Edgware General hospital was flooded and the casualty department closed after a stream which runs through the hospital grounds burst its banks.

Tim Donovan, operations manager, said: 'We had plans to evacuate, but there was no need. The patients were extremely cool. I think it broke the routine, which they enjoyed.'

In Hertfordshire the fire service received 175 calls overnight to deal with floodingin the South Oxhey, Hemel Hempstead, Bovingdon, Harpenden and Borehamwood areas. Some areas of Hatfield were under six feet (1.8m) of water.

In Cambridgeshire, parts of the A1 were under 10 to 12 inches (30cm) of water. Police said floodwater was 6ft deep in places.

The storms kept police at Stonehenge in Wiltshire happy. Hippies who usually invade the ancient stone circle for the autumn equinox stayed away. Only a handful of New Age travellers braved the weather at the 4,500- year-old monument to mark the midway point between the summer and winter solstices.

Firemen called to a house at Stagsden, Bedfordshire, found valuable Koi carp swimming around the garden. The Japanese fish were washed out of their pond when water poured across the lawn from higher ground.

Ken Howard, a fireman, said: 'We chased them round the garden and managed to catch two and put them safely back in their pond. But five were still missing.'

French toll, page 8