Anxious Abingdon waits for Thames to burst its banks

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The Independent Online

There was an apocalyptic feeling in the town of Abingdon yesterday. Everywhere, sandbags were being piled up as residents fortified their homes in anticipation of further floods.

Through windows, you could see antiques and electronics heaped on tabletops, out of harm's way. At supermarkets people were loading trolleys with bottled water, milk and bread. Wellington boots - flowery, striped or traditional green - were the footwear of choice.

Local radio warned of an increasing list of roads that could be underwater within a few hours, as well as details of local shelters. Presenters appealed to residents not to panic.

The Oxfordshire town had already been hit once over the weekend, and Abingdon already looked like a town that needed to be rolled up and wrung out. The small, picturesque River Ock burst its banks early on Sunday, taking over the surrounding fields. But this time the forecasts were even more ominous. Both the rivers that meet here were expected to overflow, sending new tributaries into the town centre.

With local firefighters already flooded out of their homes, crews from as far away as Greater Manchester and Essex had been called in. Operation Deep End was in full swing as they readied for another sleepless night. Sandbags, by now at a premium, were being handed out as boats were prepared.

At the White Horse pub, manager Paul Gresty surveyed the devastation from last weekend's flood: leather sofas with watermarks, carpets rolled up, oak floors warped. He and his wife Kim had come down early on Sunday morning to find a diesel-scented river running through their pub.

"What can you do? If the water wants to get in, you are going to have a job stopping it," said Mr Gresty.

Last night, the Environment Agency was predicting even greater trouble to come with the Thames forecast to break its banks, creating a knock-on effect in the Ock. The agency issued two severe flood warnings for Abingdon, with as many as 40 roads considered critical, and another for the southern end of Oxford.

Across the county, homeowners were being warned that the waters were expected to peak around midnight.

The residents of Spring Road in Abingdon remained stoical, speaking of the "Dunkirk" spirit that had brought them together, of students who had collected sandbags before setting up a band in the middle of the river-like road, and cups of tea passed around between residents.

"If it wasn't for the fact our cellar was flooded, we have had a pretty good time. Everyone has chipped in," said 19-year-old Harry Hanson-Smith.

"Everything electrical is upstairs," said Heidi Deutsch, 31. "You can't stop the water. You just have to get on with life."

Ms Deutsch and her partner Mat Parker, 32, only moved into Spring Road a year ago. They were determined to focus on the silver lining to this particular cloud. The floods had given them an opportunity to meet many new neighbours.

"We have arranged to go over to one of them for a barbecue this weekend," said Mr Parker, adding: "We are optimistic."