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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 July 2007, 12:47 GMT 13:47 UK
Flooding 'worse than in 1947'
Workmen at Caversham Weir, Reading, on 16th March, 1947
Melting snow and heavy rain caused havoc 60 years ago
Flooding in parts of central and southern England has caused disruption and misery for hundreds of thousands of people. But how does it compare with similar events in 1947?

Global warming is often blamed for freak weather such as the floods which have devastated many parts of England in the last few days.

But just over 60 years ago, in March 1947, as rivers burst their banks across the South, including London, excessive heat was the last thing on people's minds.

Weeks of sub-zero temperatures and heavy snow had caused one of the worst winters on record.

For many people still coping with the emotional after-effects and austerity of World War II the ordeal was not over.

It seems a lot worse now. It really does
Audrey Ray
Victim of 1947 floods

A rapid thaw saw most of the main rivers in the Midlands, southern and north-eastern England burst their banks, with water covering about 700,000 acres of land and causing an estimated 300m of damage - in today's money.

Further rain helped create what the Environment Agency describes as the worst flooding in modern times.

So, how do those who lived through it think it compares with recent events?

Audrey Ray was 13 years old in 1947 when her house in Windsor, Berkshire, was flooded.

She told the BBC: "It seems a lot worse now. It really does. It wasn't so bad here in 1947 as it is now in Gloucestershire.

"It was very different in 1947 to now. We had 10 inches of water where we were, but in those days nobody owned a washing machine or television and nobody had fitted carpets. We had less to lose to the floods.

It was only two years after the Second World War and no-one had nearly as much as we've got now

"There was also quite a bit of warning. We saw the water coming down the gutters. It started at about one o'clock and wasn't coming through the floorboards until nine o'clock, so we had more time to move our stuff."

Mrs Ray, who still lives in the same house, added: "I was only 13 at the time and the floods meant I didn't have to go to school for a week, which was wonderful for me.

"Then the Army brought in vehicles called ducks, which could go on land and on the water. They picked up the children and took us to school.

"After the floods subsided, people came round with drying machines. In some people's houses they melted the glue on the furniture. Just before that, the council came round with disinfectant.

'Once-in-a-hundred years'

"We were also lucky that we had a very, very good summer afterwards - you could leave your windows open from dawn until dusk. It all dried out.

"It was only two years after the Second World War and no-one had nearly as much as we've got now. It must be awful now. It looks worse on television now than it did to us then."

The Environment Agency rates the 1947 floods as a "once-in-a-hundred-years" event.

They cost the UK a total of 12m - equivalent to almost 300m today.

The snow which melted had been up to 1.5 metres deep in some areas, with drifts of between three and five metres.

Added to this, some 4.6 inches or rain fell, with very little being absorbed into the still-frozen ground.

Two sets of extreme weather - a terrible winter and heavy rainfall - had combined to do even more damage to a war-ravaged economy and thousands of people's lives.

Earlier this year, the Environment Agency put out a statement, saying: "Although floods on the scale of 1947 are very rare... history shows they do happen, and could happen again."

According to Audrey Ray, they have.


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