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What lies beneath the floods - Independent Online Edition > Climate Change
As the filthy flood waters begin to subside, they are revealing a scene of devastated homes. Now there are warnings of a mounting health risk from toxic chemicals and fatal bugs left behind in the wake of the deluge
By Jonathan Brown
Published: 25 July 2007
The filthy brown flood waters may have been subsiding yesterday but the tide of human misery they have left in their wake was relentlessly swelling.
Few aspects of everyday life across huge swathes of central England have been unaffected by the unprecedented deluge of last weekend. It will be many weeks before normality returns.
The grim task of sifting through possessions was already under way yesterday. A steadily mounting pile of soaked and soiled items seemed to stand guard at every front door, waiting to come under the calculating eye of the insurance loss adjustor.
For more than 350,000 people in Gloucestershire the most pressing issue was not the loss of possessions, many of them prized. The biggest problem remains the lack of clean water after the county's main treatment plant was knocked out.
And it emerged last night that in the event of the flooding of Walham power station which escaped being hit by waters from the Severn by two inches in the early hours of yesterday ministers had drawn up plans to carry out evacuations inn Cheltenham and Gloucester. Yesterday in communities which only a few days ago were coping with little more than the inconvenience of the wretched British summer, residents were told it could be up to two weeks before they are reconnected to the mains water supply.
In the meantime they must queue for bottled water or fill containers at 900 bowsers in Gloucester, Cheltenham and Stroud. The council also issued an urgent plea for portable lavatories.
There were warnings of a mounting health risk from thousands of gallons of sewage and toxic chemicals that have spilled into homes, gardens and streets in recent days. The Health Protection Agency urged people to keep out of the water to avoid contact with potentially fatal microbes such as E.coli. The agency also warned of a sharp rise in stress-related illnesses as a result of the flooding.
A pregnant woman stranded in the floods lost her twins despite being airlifted to hospital. The woman gave birth to the premature twins in her Tewkesbury home moments before RAF rescue helicopters arrived. She was taken by one helicopter, and her babies were carried in another, to Cheltenham General Hospital where the babies died. The woman was 21 weeks pregnant and her family had called 999 on Saturday morning, but floods blocked the ambulance.
Tewkesbury, cut off by the flooded Severn and Avon rivers, yesterday remained little more than a ghost town with hotels ordered to close to guests, many of them stranded tourists, because of the lack of flushing lavatories. Joe Bishop, a manager at the Bell Hotel, where water continued to lap around the historic building, said staff had worked round the clock to stay open.
"The water level is going down a bit but we've run out of water, food, beer and linen and we've been told to close as a hotel. We've still got quite a few guests so I don't know where they are going to sleep tonight," he said.
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