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31 juillet 2005

Here Come the Flood...Smoke On The Water

Droughts, twisters, floods: what on earth has happened to our weather?

Robin McKie, Barbara McMahon and Giles Tremlett

Sunday July 31, 2005
The Observer

Britain's biggest water company is pressing ahead with plans to ban hosepipes and sprinklers in August. Thames Water, which supplies 8 million homes in the south of England issued the warning yesterday despite rainstorms that have deluged much of Britain in the last few days and a 130mph tornado which smashed a three-mile trail of destruction through areas of Birmingham.

But despite rainfall of several inches in some areas, the downpour has made only a marginal improvement to levels at reservoirs, a spokesman for Thames Water warned yesterday. 'It was enough to save us from introducing bans this week, but unless we get substantially more rain in the next couple of weeks, it is very likely that we will have to start introducing some types of restrictions on water use before the end of August.'


Britain's water crisis is mirrored by heatwaves and droughts afflicting much of Europe. Italy is currently in the grip of a searing heatwave, with Level 3 alerts in operation - the highest warning, indicating a danger to the general population - in many cities.

Milan recently experienced temperatures of 43C; Turin, 37; Bologna, 40, and Rome, 42. Visitors to the Italian capital have been bathing in the city's fountains, while the authorities in Perugia have been giving out bottled water free of charge. Hospitals have reported large numbers of people suffering heart or respiratory problems - a worrying situation for the authorities, who are desperate to avoid a repeat of the 2003 heatwave, during which an estimated 20,000 people died.

In Sardinia serious forest fires have devastated acres of forests and put at risk the holiday homes of many tourists and celebrities, including Peter Gabriel of Genesis. At one point fires were raging at points along 20 kilometres of coastline until winds dropped and firefighters were able to contain the flames.

Spain is suffering its worst drought since national figures were first produced in 1947. In some areas reservoirs are down to just 14 per cent of their capacity. And in western France, water levels are at their lowest since the drought of 1976, with restrictions operating in 60 out of 100 departments.

Some 52 Portuguese municipalities are now receiving water from tankers, as are some villages in northern Spain. A further 22 small Portuguese towns and villages are already having their water cut off for several hours a day.

Dried-out trees and crops have helped spread fires across Spain and Portugal, with crops burnt and at least a dozen people killed...

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