England could take years to recover from the devastating floods

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    Residents in flood-hit northwest England began returning to their homes Monday but police warned it could take years to recover from the devastation left by the heaviest rainfall on record.

    Eighteen schools were closed as local authorities struggled to restore basic services across the county of Cumbria, where many areas were cut off at the weekend after swollen rivers brought down bridges and turned roads into canals.

    All Cumbria’s 1,800 bridges had to be checked after several collapsed, one of them on Friday, taking with it a police officer whose body was later recovered and 16 remained closed on Monday.

    About 60 people were still sheltering in temporary accommodation, but owners of many of the 900 homes and business affected in the worst-hit town of Cockermouth, on the edge of the Lake District, were being allowed back.

    Brian Trengove, who part-owns an Indian restaurant in the market town, refused to be rescued from the property when the floods hit Thursday, staying in the flat upstairs and surviving on a “very large pot of curry”.

    He told the BBC he expected a huge clean-up, saying all food and drink would have to be thrown away, “all the furniture is ruined, I imagine the walls will need replastering, the whole place will need to be rewired.”

    Police chief Craig Mackey meanwhile warned the “highly unusual” levels of damage caused to infrastructure across the region may take years to repair.

    “What will distinguish this from many other floodings across the country is the length of time the recovery phase will take. We will be working with our communities for weeks, months, and in some cases years to come,” Mackay said.

    “It is clear that this was an unprecedented event in terms of the flooding, the level of flooding.”

    The insurance bill for the floods in Cumbria and southern Scotland was estimated at between 50 million to 100 million pounds (55-110 million euros,

    82-165 million dollars) by the Association of British Insurers.

    Treacherous conditions were also seen across other parts of Britain, including in Wales, where the search continued for a 21-year-old woman feared swept away by a swollen river on Saturday evening.

    Ireland has also seen some of its worst floods in decades, and Prime Minister Brian Cowen was due to visit some of the worst-hit areas in the south, midlands and west of the country.

    About 18,000 homes and businesses in Cork, Ireland’s second largest city, are expected to be without a water supply all week after one of the main pumping stations was engulfed by flood water.

    Many schools in the city remained closed, the university has cancelled all lectures and the local council was driven out of their offices by flooding.

    With AFP, London, Nov 23, 2009