Page last updated at 17:45 GMT, Thursday, 10 July 2008 18:45 UK

County 'came close to disaster'

Tewkesbury underwater
The Mythe station near Tewkesbury was quickly overwhelmed by water
The loss of a major water treatment plant during floods last summer was a defining moment, the chief constable of Gloucestershire has said.

"We changed from serious flooding to a problem that would affect 350,000 people, one that was going to get even worse," Dr Timothy Brain added.

Heavy rain had fallen throughout Friday 20 July last year. The M5 had become gridlocked and by midnight the Mythe water treatment works at Tewkesbury was lost.

One person had been reported missing, presumed drowned, hundreds of people were forced out of their homes and there was widespread disruption to transport.

Officials from Severn Trent Water advised it could take two weeks to restore full mains supply.

Supermarkets began importing millions of litres of bottled water every day into Gloucestershire.

But just as the county was getting to grips with water distribution, the vast quantity of rainwater flowing off the Welsh hills threatened to inundate an electricity substation at Walham, just to the north of Gloucester.

Had the dam collapsed in Yorkshire at the same as the lights went out in Gloucestershire could the country have coped?

Dr Timothy Brain, chief constable

"By Sunday lunchtime we were told we had just 36 hours to save the station," Dr Brain recalled.

A massive operation took place to build a barrier around the installation.

The question of evacuating Gloucestershire was raised, by Dr Brain told a meeting of emergency services: "I'm not going to do a New Orleans on Gloucestershire.

Provisions for food, sanitation and lighting were brought in to allow people to survive, albeit in a primitive manner, for about three weeks.

At about 1500 BST the decision was made to bring in military reinforcements.

The RAF had been in the area since Friday night mounting its largest search-and-rescue operation for 40 years.

By Monday night a temporary barrier around the substation was completed and pumps had been installed to keep ground water from rising.

High water was expected at 2200 BST on Monday night and the station was secured with 30 minutes to go.

From early on Tuesday the flood water started to recede.

The following day the Royal Logistic Corps had found a way to distribute water efficiently and long period of recovery started.

Although Gloucestershire survived the floods Dr Brain believes the country needs to be better prepared.

He said: "There needs to be a degree of permanent planning. Central government has to have reserves of fuel, food and water that can be transported to affected areas quickly.

"There were three weeks separating the floods in Gloucestershire, Yorkshire and Humberside.

"Had the dam collapsed in Yorkshire at the same as the lights went out in Gloucestershire could the country have coped?

"We are better prepared than we were but I'm not sure we are all the way there yet."


Chief Constable Dr Tim Brain remembers last summer's floods

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14 Jun 08 |  Gloucestershire
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