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The BBC's Robert Hall
"A deluge that changed the landscape"
 real 56k

The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
Floods like these today will become more frequent due to global warming
 real 56k

Ray Kemp, Environment Agency
"For goodness sake, don't go out"
 real 28k

Thursday, 12 October, 2000, 20:44 GMT 21:44 UK
Floods cause chaos
Rescuers in Lewes, East Sussex
Submerged cars show the extent of flooding in Lewes
Some of the worst flooding in decades has caused chaos and widespread damage in southern England.

Downpours on already saturated land and overflowing rivers flooded homes and businesses, cut off roads and delayed or stopped rail services.

The worst hit areas were East and West Sussex and north-west Kent, where rescue workers evacuated residents from low-lying parts of five villages on Thursday.

The situation is likely to get worse before things start to improve overnight

Met Office head forecaster Ewen McCallum
The latest evacuations came as forecasters warned more rain was on the way.

Uckfield in East Sussex, where more than 150mm of rain fell in 12 hours, saw a lifeboat crew rescue 20 men, women and children trapped in a Somerfield supermarket.

Night workers and residents in flats above shops also had to be rescued.

Vernon Jay, a jeweller from the town, had to be plucked from a riverbank by helicopter 20 minutes after he was washed down the high street.

Onlookers watched in horror as Mr Jay, who was attempting to reach his shop, was caught up in the current at 0720BST.

Click here to see a map of the worst hit areas

Ray Kemp, from the Southern Region of the Environment Agency, described the situation as "dire" and warned people not to take risks.

"If you encounter floodwater, don't travel through it. This is a very severe emergency.

"This is probably the worst rainfall we have had for many, many years in southern England."

He suggested that people should move pets to safety and get cars onto higher ground.

Low-lying areas of historic Lewes were also evacuated as the swollen River Ouse collapsed a wall and threatened to burst altogether.

Severe Flood Warnings
East Sussex rivers: Ouse, Uck
Kent rivers: Tiese, Beult, Bourne, Rother, Eden, Swalecliffe Brook, West Brook and Medway
Severe Flood Warnings - alerts of an imminent threat to life and property - were issued for 10 rivers in Sussex and Kent by the Environment Agency.

By Thursday afternoon 42 warnings of expected flooding were made across the country from Devon to Yorkshire and Shropshire to Kent.

Drivers in Sussex were asked to stay at home by police as main roads, including the A21, A22, A26, A27, A227 and A272, were flooded.

A spokesman for AA Roadwatch said: "The police have been putting out so many road flood warning signs in Sussex that they have run out."

Rush hour motorists were stranded in their cars and some had to sit on the roof of their vehicle as floodwater continued to rise.

Rescued dog
People have been urged to move pets to safety
In Kent, water was held back at the Leigh Barrier near Tunbridge Wells, preventing it flowing down the River Medway towards Tonbridge.

But some unlucky residents from the villages of East Peckham, Yalding, Laddingford, Collier Street and Stile Bridge had to be evacuated.

Maidstone Borough Council set up a "rest centre" at Cornwallis School, at the Linton Crossroads on the A229, providing shelter and refreshments for people without alternative accommodation.

The ambulance service was urging people not to dial 999 unless it was a "real emergency".

Lewes MP Norman Baker, who is working with the emergency services, said parts of the town were "unrecognisable".

"I am very concerned for the people whose premises, homes and businesses have been swamped by water in such a short time.

"Emergency services are tonight facing a very major operation in making sure people are rescued in time."

He called for one body to be in charge of flood precautions instead of the four separate ones at present.

Meteorological Office experts said after more rain in south east England on Thursday night the situation should be easing on Friday.

Head forecaster Ewen McCallum said: "The situation is likely to get worse before things start to improve overnight."

Figures show the region's average monthly rainfall for October has already been exceeded.

Floods Hotline: 0845 9881188

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