Oxford Residents Evacuated as UK Flood Waters Rise
LONDON -- The River Thames burst its banks on Wednesday, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of homes in the university city of Oxford in Britain's worst floods for 60 years.
About 350,000 people faced two weeks without running water, the insurance bill could soar to 3 billion pounds ($6.2 billion) and farmers say harvests have been badly hit.
Oxford became the new frontline when rivers feeding into the Thames spilled over into its streets, forcing police to evacuate 250 homes.
Environment Agency officials warned that the river had not yet peaked and said more rain was expected.
But as the flooding spread along the river, officials said Queen Elizabeth's residence at Windsor Castle was not threatened and no property flooding was expected in London -- although heavy storms could always cause flash flooding.
"There are six severe flood warnings in place. It looks as if we are going to get up to 20 millimetres of rain across the board tomorrow," an Environment Agency spokesman said.
The insurance bill for floods in June and July could hit 3 billion pounds, insurers say, sparking fears of price hikes.
Milk shortages hit some areas with flooded roads making collections from dairy farms impossible. The rain brought harvesting of barley and rapeseed to a halt in many regions.
Economists say the floods will trim back economic growth and are likely to trigger a short-term spike in food prices, but the overall economy is likely to weather the storm in the long run.
In Gloucestershire, the western English county worst hit by the deluge, the flood waters started to recede along the River Severn but battered residents braced for more rain.
The government has promised 10 million pounds ($21 million) in aid for the stricken areas -- in addition to the 14 million pounds initially pledged by Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
"We need to invest more in preventing floods," Brown told parliament before leaving London to take a firsthand look at the worst hit areas.
Less than a month into the job as Britain's new premier, he said everything had to be looked at from infrastructure and drainage to where utilities were located.
In a stark reference to how 21st century weather had changed, Finance Minister Alistair Darling said: "Climate change is not a passing trend.
"It is a reality we must factor into everything we do. If we do not, threats to our everyday life -- like the floods this week -- risk becoming common."
One power distribution station at Walham in Gloucestershire came perilously close to flooding with emergency services working to shore it up as the water came within 6 inches (15 cm) of breaching defences.
That would have left up to 500,000 people without power and plunged hospitals, stores, shops and homes into chaos. (Additional reporting by Simon Challis, Nigel Hunt and Matt Falloon)