Sandbags issued as county prepares for flood

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(First Edition)

SANDBAGS were issued to householders in Bedfordshire last night during a flood alert as the torrential rains which have caused havoc nation-wide continued.

The centre of Bedford was deserted, with offices and businesses closing early to allow staff to travel home safely. The emergency services and the Army were on standby at Kempston near Bedford where the Great Ouse was expected to reach its peak level last night. Some villages were already in three feet of water, but levels were not expected to match those of the last major flood in the area, in 1947.

A spokesman for the National Rivers Authority said yesterday: 'The state of alert has been placed at amber/red which indicates a lower threat to the risk of flooding expected in the areas bounded by the river Great Ouse, particularly in central Bedford.' But he warned that parts of Kempston and Bedford would be affected by floods last night and this morning.

The north of Bedfordshire has been on flood alert since Thursday. An incident room set up at Bedfordshire Police HQ has received hundreds of calls from residents frightened that they will face the severe flooding seen in other areas earlier this week.

Floodwater now causing problems in the Bedford area is expected to peak at Earith, Cambridgeshire, on Sunday or Monday, the National Rivers Authority said. A spokesman for the London Weather Centre said rain and thundery showers would continue over the weekend, particularly in the south.

An NRA spokeswoman said that recent floods did not mean that water was no longer in short supply.

She said: 'All that water is simply going to waste. Very heavy rain like this causes such a hazard that all we can do is divert it away so that it gets to the sea as quickly as possible.' The country needed a long wet winter to end the drought, during which four dry years had drastically lowered water levels in the ground.