IMAGE: Collecting water in Tewkesbury, England
Christopher Furlong  /  Getty Images
A resident of Tewkesbury, England, collects emergency water on Tuesday after flooding swamped a water treatment plant, cutting off clean water supplies.
updated 7/24/2007 3:26:13 PM ET 2007-07-24T19:26:13

Gasoline-powered pumps roared into action Tuesday as stunned Britons tried to dry out their houses after the worst flooding in more than half a century.

Downstream from the worst-hit areas, residents nervously watched river levels, fearing the runoff from the floods could inundate new areas of western England.

“Every time you see the rain come, you think ’Oh, God,”’ said Valerie Long, as she tore out drenched carpet from her home near the swollen River Thames in Buscot, about 70 miles west of London.

One man drowned Tuesday after jumping into a rain-swollen river. And a woman trapped in her home in the town of Tewkesbury lost twins when she went into labor prematurely and paramedics could not reach her by land.

Two Royal Air Force helicopters were sent and the babies and mother were taken to the hospital, where the twins died — premature at 21 weeks, police said.

Police in Tewkesbury were looking for a 19-year-old man who disappeared after leaving a pub Saturday as flooding increased.

'The worst is over'
Although sunshine helped shrink water levels Tuesday, more rain was expected in the next few days. Forecasters, however, said additional flooding wasn’t expected.

“Rainfall-wise, the worst is over, certainly for the working week,” said John Hammond of Met Office, the national weather service.

Queen Elizabeth II sent a message of support to flooded areas, saying she was “shocked and deeply concerned” by the damage. She thanked the emergency services, military and volunteers and expressed sympathy “to all the many people whose homes have been damaged, livelihoods threatened, or who have been affected by the water and power shortages.”

Video: U.K. flooding In Bedford, north of London, a man died after jumping into the River Great Ouse. Witnesses saw him swim to the middle of the river before going under. He was pulled from the water by rescuers but pronounced dead at a hospital.

Some 350,000 people in the Gloucestershire region, the most severely affected, remained without drinking water Tuesday, relying on hundreds of thousands of gallons brought in by emergency workers in bottles or in tankers. Many may have to wait a week or more for the floodwaters to recede enough to allow pumping stations to operate.

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn told legislators some 780,000 gallons of bottled water were being distributed daily, along with the water being provided by tankers. He said the government would commit $48 million for recovery efforts.

'Not a pub in the river'
Large swaths of land remained waterlogged as emergency workers tried to pump water from affected areas and residents embarked on salvage operations, piling sandbags against doors to keep water out.

“We wanted a riverside pub, not a pub in the river,” said Stephen Parker, who worked alongside his wife to clean up the Maybush Pub in Newbridge, 60 miles west of London. Plates with leftover roasts still lay on the tables where Sunday afternoon customers left quickly when the River Thames burst its banks.

The Environment Agency, meanwhile, said some steel flood barriers erected since the heavy rains began last week had been targeted by thieves.

“I am amazed and absolutely disgusted that anyone would try to steal these barriers that have helped save lives and property,” said agency official John Adams.

Britain has had one of its wettest summers on record — a sharp contrast to last summer, which was one of its driest and hottest.

London unlikely to flood
Nearly five inches of rain fell in some areas on Friday alone. More rain fell on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. While floodwaters began to recede in Gloucester and Tewkesbury — two of the hardest-hit communities — other places west of London on the Thames braced for rising water levels.

The Thames was expected to crest in Pangbourne, Purley and Reading area by late Tuesday to early Wednesday. Emergency officials, however, said they expected the levels to be lower than the worst-affected areas.

London, further down the Thames, appeared unlikely to flood. The Thames Barrier, the world’s largest moveable flood defense, can be closed to seal off the upper river from tidal flows that could cause a swollen river to overrun its banks.

The heaviest flooding was in Gloucestershire, about 120 miles west of London, inundating pumping stations and cutting off drinkable water to an estimated 350,000 people. Authorities deployed some 900 tanker trucks in the region with emergency water rations.

County officials said some of the tankers had been vandalized amid frustrations over the water supply.

Religious services continuing
Tewkesbury’s 900-year-old Norman abbey — shown in aerial shots surrounded by water — said services were continuing despite the floods. Water entered the building, which dominates the town from its elevated perch, for the first time since 1760.

The Environment Agency said the River Severn at Gloucester crested just inches below a level that would have threatened the city center and a power station serving 500,000 homes. The Thames crested overnight in Oxford, but downstream in Reading the highest water was not expected until Thursday, the agency said.

The agency said the River Severn at Gloucester crested just inches below a level that would have threatened the city center and the Walham power station, which serves 500,000 homes. Benn said “heroic efforts” by firefighters, soldiers and sailors from the Royal Navy kept floodwaters at bay.

Channel 4 News reported the power station also supplies electricity to Government Communications Headquarters, Britain’s electronic spying nerve-center. Officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

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