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UNENDING RAIN BRINGS ENGLISH HISTORIC FLOOD

Meteorologists say they expect water levels to peak today or Wednesday.

Emergency workers rescued trapped people Monday as rising water swallowed large swaths of central England, the worst flooding in the country in 60 years. Officials said the western section of the rain-swollen River Thames was on the verge of bursting its banks.

Roads and parking lots were submerged, trains suspended, buses canceled. Hundreds of thousands of people were left without electricity or drinking water, and farmers saw their summer crops destroyed.

Torrential rains have plagued Britain for a month - nearly 5 inches fell in some areas on Friday alone - and more downpours were predicted.

"This emergency is far from over, and further flooding is extremely likely," Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said.

The Thames water levels in Oxford were expected to peak about midnight. Flood defenses in the center of the town - home to the renowned 800-year-old university - were holding so far.

The worst-hit areas Monday were farther west, where cars were submerged and streets turned into canals. Thousands of people were forced to leave their homes and businesses.

The Ministry of Defense said military helicopters rescued more than 120 people from the rising floodwaters, including 87 people trapped in a trailer park in Gloucestershire county, central England.

Among the hardest-hit areas was the medieval market town of Tewkesbury, 110 miles northwest of London, where the cathedral and blocks of nearby houses stood like an atoll in a vast stretch of muddy water up to 5 feet.

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

He said he saw goldfish swimming in his driveway.

No deaths or serious injuries have been reported in the current flooding.

London itself was not affected. The city is protected from flooding in the east by the Thames Barrier, the world's largest moveable flood defense, which closes to seal off part of the upper Thames from the sea.

To the west, London is protected by several flood defense measures including the Jubilee River, a 7-mile-long diversion channel. The western section of the Thames that officials worried about lies 80 miles from the capital.

Meteorologists said water levels were expected to peak today or Wednesday.

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