LONDON (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of Britons hit by the worst flooding in 60 years faced further misery on Thursday as forecasters predicted more rain in the areas most badly affected.
Two people were found dead in a cellar in the west of England, raising to at least eight the number of people to have died as a result of record rainfall that has washed out many summer holidays.
The pair were believed to have been overcome by fumes from a petrol-powered pump as they tried to remove water from the basement of a rugby club, police said.
Up to 350,000 people in central parts of the country remain without running water after the floods damaged power sub-stations and knocked out sewage systems.
In the past two months, Britain has experienced the highest rainfall since records began in 1766, leading rivers to burst their banks and forcing up to 10,000 people from their homes.
Insurers have said the combined cost of the June and July floods could top 3 billion pounds ($6 bln). There is also expected to be a heavy impact on agriculture, with farmers warning that any more rain could affect harvests.
The army is distributing 3 million bottles of water a day to people who no longer have access to drinking water.
The deaths follow the disappearance of a teenager from a severely flooded town last Friday and at least six deaths from widespread flooding across northern England in mid-June.
While floodwaters may have peaked and were expected to start receding on Thursday, the Met Office, the country’s weather forecasting agency, issued a warning for severe rainfall in almost exactly the area already affected.
It said up to 30 mm of rain could fall in some areas of Wales and western England in the coming hours.
Health experts warned people, especially children, to avoid flood water saying it might contain raw sewage hosting dangerous viruses and bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella.
“The worst time is going to be when the water recedes,” microbiologist Dr Ken Flint told the Daily Mirror. “People will need to use the highest hygiene precautions to avoid sickness.”
Other scientists played down the fears.
“Despite the dire warnings about outbreaks of disease following flooding, they rarely happen,” said Dr Keith Jones, an environmental microbiologist from Lancaster University.
The Health Protection Agency said the chances of contracting an illness were low but said there was a small risk of contracting a stomach bug from drinking contaminated water.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited some of the worst affected areas of the country on Wednesday and promised to increase financial aid to handle the fall out.
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.
One power substation in Oxford was closed as a precaution, after it was partially flooded at the weekend, but customers have not been cut off because supplies were re-routed. Sandbags were piled up to protect other substations in the area.
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 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.”