Second wave of deluge threatens chaos: Flooding closes 141 roads and hits crops as a further downpour is forecast. Mary Braid reports

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The Independent Online
TOWNS and villages in central and southern England were bracing themselves last night for a second wave of gale force winds, torrential rain and severe flooding.

The Meteorological Office warned that many areas would be deluged by one to two inches of rain. As families all over the country struggled to reclaim their flooded homes, forecasters said that for some the worst was yet to come.

The National Rivers Authority issued red alerts, signifying a very high risk of flood damage to property, on four rivers in Lincolnshire and one in the West Country.

Flooding closed 141 major and minor roads yesterday. Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Essex, East Anglia, Lincolnshire, Surrey and the West Country were all badly affected. Rail services were disrupted severely.

Villages such as Chobham in Surrey were cut off. Chobham's main street was flooded when two swollen streams became one. A hairdresser, Melanie Gunner, was one of only two employees who made it into the high street salon yesterday. She said police were turning back motorists and the emergency services were out with sandbags.

'I only made it in because I live above the shop. The other girl got a piggyback through the water. We've had only five customers all day. Clients are arriving carrying their shoes. The high street is like a ghost town. Cars are abandoned. One is just floating in the street. It's awful really and it is still raining.'

John Hennessy, manager of the nearby Blubeckers restaurant, was forced to abandon his car in several feet of water and wade the final mile to work. 'I've seen flooding before but never like this. The piddling little stream that runs nearby is now so flooded it resembles the Thames.'

Some parts are the village were under four feet of water and several houses were flooded. 'At least the kids are having a great time,' Mr Hennessy said. 'Schools have been closed today and they are out with rubber dinghies.'

In Windsor, Berkshire, 45 families moved in with relatives and friends after after being evacuated from flooded homes to an army barracks. Motorists abandoned cars in the town centre and an RAC spokesman said many local routes 'resembled Venetian canals'.

In Somerset there were warnings that late crops could rot in waterlogged fields. Roger King, a Taunton potato grower, said that if rains continued there could be a potato shortage. Grape picking has also been disrupted. An Automobile Association spokeswoman said: 'It is a question of which road is not affected.'

The Thames barrier was raised last night to prevent flooding in London. It is the first time the barrier has been raised for this reason, although it has been used to stem high tides a dozen times since it was built in 1982.

But forecasts that the appalling weather would advance further north have proved groundless. A spokeswoman for the London Weather Centre said the heaviest rain would be confined to central and southern England and would begin to ease tonight.

The AA warned drivers that they risked aquaplaning in the treacherous weather. 'Aquaplaning - which occurs at speed when the tyre tread cannot cope with the volume of water on the road surface - means that the car literally floats and the steering becomes useless,' said Andrew Howard, the AA's head of road safety.

This month has a long way to go to become the wettest October since records began in 1727. In 1903 an average of 211mm fell over England and Wales. The combined average for this month so far is 72mm.

However, it has rained in Bracknell, Berkshire, every day since 19 September, subjecting the Met Office itself to the longest unrelieved wet spell in the country - 24 days.

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