Father and son who tried to drain their flood-damaged rugby club found dead

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A father and son died as they battled to deal with the aftermath of the floods that have devastated parts of central and southern England.

Bram Lane, a pensioner who had three children, and his son Chris were found dead in the basement of their local rugby club in Tewkesbury, scene of some of the worst flooding after last weekend's storms.

Investigators believe the two men were either overwhelmed by fumes from the petrol-driven pump they were using or electrocuted as they worked to clear the water.

Friends described them as "linchpins" of the community who lived for their sport. They were among 12 volunteers who had gone to assess the scale of the damage at Tewkesbury RFC on Wednesday night. Their bodies were found yesterday morning.

Mandy Masters, a neighbour, said Mr Lane Snr was director and treasurer of the club, known as the Tewkesbury Tigers. He helped set up the club and played for it. "He was just the sort of man who would go down there to sort things out - the club was his life. He was the real linchpin. It is going to be a massive loss as he kept it all going tickety-boo," she said.

"He was a real old-school gentleman. He was tall, very elegant, very helpful, very friendly and very knowledgeable about Tewkesbury as well as the game - he was lovely," she added.

They are the first confirmed deaths linked to the flood. Fears have been mounting in the historic market town since Saturday night when 19-year-old Mitchell Taylor disappeared on his way to work. He has still not been found.

The latest tragedy comes as more than 350,000 people in Gloucestershire prepare to spend their seventh day without fresh running water.

Hilary Benn, the Secretary of State for the Environment, told MPs that as many as 15,000 homes may have been flooded in recent days.

Mr Benn updated the Cabinet on the floods when ministers met at Chequers yesterday before visiting Oxford, where homeowners have staged protests calling on the Government to improve flood defences in the area.

Mr Benn conceded there had been problems getting enough tankers to refill the 900 bowsers set up in Gloucestershire to supply fresh water. But there was some relief. It was announced that 20 million litres of water was to be fed into the Tewkesbury system to allow residents to flush their lavatories and wash.

Meanwhile, the Environment Agency said the threat to towns and villages along the Thames was lessening after days of anxiety. But it said limited flooding downriver from Caversham, near Reading, to Shepperton, including parts of Henley and Marlow, was "probably unavoidable".

David Cameron, the Tory leader, who has been criticised for visiting Rwanda at the height of the crisis which affected his own constituency, Witney, visited homes affected by the flooding. He called for a special Army unit to be put on permanent stand-by to deal with national emergencies such as floods, terror attacks and outbreaks of disease.

Gloucestershire's director of public heath, Dr Shona Arora, played down the health risks associated with contact with flood waters, such as dysentry and cholera. She said there had not been "any notable increase" in stomach bugs or similar infections so far.