The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Thames flood turns Oxford into city of floating spires

London, July 25: The city of dreaming spires was today in danger of becoming the city of floating spires as the water surge travelling along the Thames inundated parts of Oxford.

As the wet weather continued in Britain, weather forecasters predicted more flooding.

In and around the university town, parents could be seen pushing their children on bicycles through waterlogged streets, householders tethering punts in their back gardens and residents trying to make their way back home through rising levels.

An emergency rescue centre was set up in the Kassam football stadium near Oxford — it has been named after Firoz Kassam, a British Asian businessman who rescued Oxford United — where people, especially the elderly, were brought in overnight. John Kelly, Oxfordshire Council’s emergency planning officer, said about 70 people spent the night in the stadium.

Luckily, the university has now broken up for the long summer vacation — though some departing Indian students will have will flown back home to face the flooded streets of Calcutta and Mumbai. Firefighters blocked off Earl Street, off Botley Road in Oxford, which at 8.30am resembled a 3feet-4feet deep river.

Geoff Bell, of the Environment Agency, said the area of west Oxford currently in flood is on the Thames flood plain.

According to the agency, 800 homes and businesses in Oxfordshire had been flooded, including 570 in Abingdon.

Bell explained that the water on the plain was working its way from the fields outside the city into the residential area. In addition, tributaries in the area — such as Bullstake Stream — were now spilling over and compounding the flooding.

He expected the Thames to rise by another inch.

Police said the affected roads in Oxford included Botley Road, East Street, West Street, South Street, Bridge Street, Riverside Road and Earl Street. Although the water has not got into the colleges, the danger remains.

On Botley Road, people making their way to work in Oxford were forced to negotiate large lakes dotted along the main route, some cycling in bare feet, others wading in Wellington boots. Nearby, at the severely-flooded George Inn pub on Botley Road, a sign reflected the British sense of humour: “Open for business – come hell or high water.”

The environment secretary, Hilary Benn, told the Commons today that the worst flooding Britain has experienced in 60 years was causing “considerable human distress”. And the worst was “still not over”, he warned.

“This emergency is still not over and the River Thames continues to cause concern,” said Benn. “Flooding in Henley, Reading and other riverside properties to Marlow and Windsor may be unavoidable.”

The government has increased aid to the worst affected areas from £14million to £24million. Every day 3million litres of bottled water are also being distributed as drinking water becomes the most sought after commodity in parts of Britain floating in sewage-strewn water.

Oxford has not been as badly affected as many other parts of the country — not yet anyway. More than 340,000 people in Gloucestershire, for example, have been told they will not have access to water in their homes for up to two weeks.

On radio, one expert suggested that Britain has coped less well than many Third World countries which deal with floods on a regular basis.

The Queen has voiced her support for victims, saying she was “shocked and deeply concerned” by the devastation. It has emerged that a woman trapped in the floods lost her premature newborn twins despite being rescued by RAF helicopters.

The woman, who was 21 weeks pregnant, called for help as she was stranded at her home in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire.

Two Sea King helicopters were scrambled and the twins were winched into one helicopter while the woman was lifted to safety in the other. All three were flown to Cheltenham Hospital, but the babies died.

But unlike India, no one has fallen into uncovered manholes and been swept away inside sewers, nor have there been any deaths from electrocution caused by fallen wires.


What the English have been told to do:

No electricity'

Be careful with candles, because of the risk from the naked flame

If you can get to the shops, buy batteries and torches

Tune in to a local radio station for the latest news

Get to a friend’s or relative’s house for a shower, or for washing clothes

No running water'

Water should be boiled for ten minutes and then left to cool, to make it safe to drink

Avoid using water for anything that is non-vital. Make sure the water you have is not wasted

For those with babies: if mixing formula milk, use bottled water after it has been brought to the boil. Alternatively, use formula milk

Water from washing, bathing, or cooking can be reused to flush toilets

Staying safe

Do not swim in the flood waters. You don’t know what’s below the surface

Disinfect yourself if you have been in the water

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