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Britain slowly recovers from worst flood in 60 years

Emergency workers restored power to thousands of homes Tuesday but 350,000 people were still without fresh water in western England as waters slowly receded from the worst flooding in 60 years (photos)

Water levels peaked on the River Thames in Oxford, but communities downstream were scrambling to prepare for surges later in the week.

Some 48,000 homes were cut off from electric power on Monday as the River Severn flooded the Castlemeads substation in Gloucester, 115 miles (185 kilometers) west of London. Power was restored overnight, police said.

"River levels have peaked and the level is now falling, but due to the current high volumes of water this is happening quite slowly," Gloucestershire Police spokesman Katy Roberts said.

The Environment Agency said the Severn at Gloucester peaked just inches below the level that would have threatened the city center and a power station serving 500,000 homes. The Thames peaked overnight in Oxford, but downstream in Reading the highest water wasn't expected until Thursday, the agency said.

Torrential rains have plagued Britain over the past month - nearly 5 inches (12 centimeters) fell in some areas on Friday alone - and more downpours were expected until at least Tuesday.

"This emergency is far from over, and further flooding is extremely likely," Environment Secretary Hilary Benn told the House of Commons on Monday.

Roads and parking lots were submerged, train and bus service was suspended and summer crops were destroyed.

On the outskirts of Oxford, 60 miles (95 kilometers) west of London, about 50 elderly people evacuated to a stadium from a retirement community overlooking the swollen River Ock.

"People look at me and say I look fine, but inside I'm all churned up," said Sylvia Williams, a 69-year-old widow among the evacuees.

Among the hardest hit areas was Tewkesbury, north of Gloucester, where rising water entered the 900-year-old abbey church for the first time since 1760.

"It was just devastation - total chaos, cars floating past, rubbish, all kinds," said John King, a 68-year-old retired fire fighter from Tewkesbury. "You just can't stop water of that power."

Sir Nick Young, chief executive of the British Red Cross, said he was shocked by what he saw overnight in Gloucester and Tewkesbury - "these awful scenes of people huddled around candlelight in the upper floors of buildings," he said.

"It was ridiculous to see young children playing in the water as if it was the beach at Blackpool," Young added. "It is unsafe water, absolutely filthy, polluted by sewage, and people really need to be advised to stay out of it."

Some residents lined up for free water at local grocery stores, while others took to canoes and small boats to ferry food and water to housebound residents.

Severn Trent Water said it aimed to have 900 tankers in place to supply fresh water in the worst-hit areas on Tuesday.

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