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Last Updated: Saturday, 21 July 2007, 21:56 GMT 22:56 UK
Flood lessons 'must be learned'
Floods in Pershore, Worcs. Photo by Andrew Neale
Some motorists have been forced to abandon their cars

Lessons must be learned from the floods, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said, after severe weather caused chaos across parts of England and Wales.

Thousands were forced into emergency centres overnight and schoolchildren and drivers were left stranded. More heavy rain is due in the south-east.

Mr Brown said the way transport and drainage had coped would be assessed.

The prime minister said the flooding had been "an emergency that no-one could have predicted".

"One of the issues that will arise is how co-ordinated the services are between the Highways Agency and the Environment Agency, in this particular instance, where people have been inconvenienced using transport, whether it's the roads or the railways," Mr Brown said.

TRAVEL CHAOS
Heathrow airport - delays possible, check with operator before travelling
M5 - open in both directions, some delays
Central/Virgin Trains - many services from Birmingham New St suspended
First Great Western - services disrupted between Oxford, Reading, Swindon, Newbury, Hereford and Gloucester
M50 - open in both directions, some delays
West Midlands - many roads closed, including parts of A46

Tory leader David Cameron said a hardship fund should be set up to help those without insurance who had lost possessions.

"Of course, people should have insurance, but many don't and may be left with nothing, and a hardship fund is one way of helping these people," Mr Cameron said.

The Liberal Democrats claimed the government's response had been slow and uncoordinated.

Environment spokesman Chris Huhne said: "We do not even know the areas at greatest risk, and responsibility is dangerously split between councils and water companies."

Families were forced to spend Friday night on the M5 while about 20 children remain trapped at the Vale of Evesham Special School in Evesham.

The pupils look set to spend a second night there after police turned back parents attempting to reach them through the floodwaters.

Meanwhile, West Mercia Police say thieves have been breaking into abandoned vehicles in Herefordshire and Worcestershire.

And as the worst of the problems appeared to be clearing, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) said the final bill for damage and disruption was expected to run into "hundreds of millions".

YOUR PICTURES
Readers' flood pictures

Kelly Ostler of the ABI told the BBC that reports of householders not being able to get insurance unless they protected their homes against flooding were inaccurate.

"We have - the industry that is - has a statement of principles with the government that says any home that has insurance at the moment, household and buildings insurance, for flooding and they have maintained flood defences by the government in the area, then they will always have flood cover."

Emergency rescues

Hereford and Worcester Fire Service, which received more than 2,000 calls and rescued more than 750 people, said by Saturday evening things had begun to calm down.

But Mike Redfern, assistant chief fire officer, said: "The kind of rescues we're talking about are very dramatic, very, very scary life-threatening stuff, people having to climb onto roofs to be winched to safety by RAF helicopters."

Shirley Start, who owns a hotel in Evesham, told BBC News 24 she was trapped in the upper storeys with 40 guests.

"We have got electricity, but there is no food now so we're waiting for the Army to bring food and fresh water to us," she said.

Elsewhere, Gloucestershire Police appealed to people not to go into the centres of Gloucester and Cheltenham on Saturday evening for their own safety.

The transport network has also been hit, with congestion reported at Heathrow airport and on many roads and rail services, on one of the busiest weekends of the year at the start of many school holidays.

M5 in Glos by Rob Jervis
Thousands of motorists were stranded overnight on the M5

The Highways Agency said by Saturday evening motorways and trunk roads were no longer affected by flood-related incidents.

However, many rail services have been cancelled and some smaller roads remain closed.

Police in Worcestershire and Herefordshire have warned holidaymakers against travel through the counties for at least 24 hours.

Two months' rain

The Environment Agency has issued 11 severe flood warnings for the Midlands alone, with parts of the Rivers Severn, Avon, Dene, Isbourne, Stour and Teme affected.

It has also issued warnings for Oxfordshire, Berkshire and London over the coming days after some areas received more than two months' rain in just 24 hours.

Parts of Oxford and nearby Abingdon were likely to be flooded by Sunday, the agency predicted.

The main developments include:

  • Lifeboat crews rescued holidaymakers stranded on top of their caravans in Droitwich, Kidderminster, Wick, Pershore and Hawford
  • About 2,000 people spent the night in emergency centres in Tewkesbury, Gloucester, Cheltenham, Chipping Campden and Moreton in Marsh
  • Twenty-two schoolchildren and eight members of staff from Blackwood school in Newport, Gwent spent the night in Ludlow's leisure centre overnight when they were stranded by the floods
  • HAVE YOUR SAY
    No wonder there's so much flooding. The roadside drains are simply not cleaned out until people actually complain to their councils.
    Craig, Bradford

  • In Birmingham 200 people were evacuated from Witton and Tame Roads in the Aston district when the River Tame overflowed at about midnight
  • Lincolnshire County Council said the flooding was worse on Saturday than on Friday, with widespread road flooding across the county, including Louth and Horncastle
  • About 70 homes and shops in Buckingham have been flooded following rising levels on the River Ouse. More than 2,500 sandbags have been used to try to limit the damage to property
  • The RSPCA have dealt with cattle up to their shoulders in water near Shrewsbury, and six cats and two boa constrictors in a flooded home near Evesham. Emus and sheep were also caught in high water

About 100 people have also been airlifted to safety by RAF helicopter crews, most from the Gloucester, Evesham and Tewkesbury areas.

The prime minister praised the "superb" efforts of the emergency services and "huge contribution" of the Armed Forces to the rescue effort.

BBC broadcast meteorologist Susan Powell said heavy, thundery showers were expected in the South East on Saturday night.

Some rain could push into the south Midlands, but areas previously worst-hit would be spared, she said.

She added that Sunday would be drier for most parts, but further heavy rain could arrive across England and Wales on Monday, possibly leading to further disruption and flooding.




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Aerial views of the Midlands under water



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