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Indian-origin mayor comes to UK's rescue

world Updated: Jul 25, 2007 12:35 IST
Harjit Singh Gill

Harjit Singh Gill, the first Indian-origin mayor of the city of Gloucester, is leading emergency rescue efforts as flood waters continued to swirl around the town amidst severe water shortage and fears of worse yet to come.

Large parts of Britain continue to be under several feet of water, causing an estimate loss of nearly 3 billion pounds. Environment Secretary Hilary Benn told the House of Commons on Tuesday that the "emergency is still not over".

A tired-looking Gill said on Tuesday evening that he had been busy making sure that all support systems were in operation in Gloucester, which was one of the worst affected towns. He said availability of clean drinking water was the biggest problem facing the community.

"I am sure this situation will pass soon. The main problem we face is of drinking water. But it is heartening to see that there is great community spirit among the people. They are helping each other, and old people. Gloucester is known for its community spirit", Gill said.

In May, Gill became Gloucester's 527th mayor and the first mayor of Indian origin.

Hundreds of people thronged supermarkets for bottled water as supplies ran out in several places. The army was helping distribute millions of bottles of water. Many people in Gloucester were heading out of the town to nearby places to wash and get water.

Official sources told IANS that flooding along parts of the river Thames was expected to worsen over the coming hours. On Tuesday, floods claimed the first life when a man drowned into the swollen Great Ouse river in the Bedford town centre.

In the House of Commons, Benn said that flooding "could be unavoidable" in parts of Reading, Henley and Marlow as the waters that have caused devastation in recent days flowed towards the sea.

"This emergency is still not over," he said and he announced that the government would supplement the flood recovery fund by up to £10 million.

The police warned that more than 140,000 homes could be without drinking water for a fortnight in Gloucestershire, where severe floods have caused chaos.

Gloucestershire's chief constable, Tim Brain, said further disruption to a power station supplying 500,000 homes with electricity had been only narrowly averted.

The situation at the Walham substation was so critical on Monday night that the cabinet's emergency committee had been warned the facility was at risk of being swamped, he said. "The crisis may have passed last night, but the ongoing emergency is not over," he said.

The Gloucestershire county council said that several water tankers had been vandalised in the Gloucester area amid frustrations over the water supply. Brain said: "The ongoing problem of water supply is going to give us severe problems for days to come."

The Met Office said six severe flood warnings were still in place across eastern and southern England, and water levels were yet to peak in the Pangbourne, Purley on Thames and Reading areas of Berkshire.

Forecasters said that more showers were expected across England throughout the week, with heavy rainfall predicted for Thursday. The Environment Agency warned the rainfall could result in water levels rising yet again and urged people to stay alert.

The Queen sent a message of support to all those affected, saying she was "shocked and deeply concerned" by the devastation caused.

In Shropshire, the UK National Ballooning Championships due to take place next week in Ludlow have been cancelled for the first time in their 32-year history because of the bad weather.