RESIDENTS across the Winchester district are anxiously watching as water levels continue to rise.

The area has seen its wettest January since records began in 1910 with an average of 213.1mm of rainfall between January 1 and 28 – a 240 per cent rise compared with the month’s average of 88.2mm.

Groundwater flooding alerts were issued to Twyford, Soberton, Droxford, Meonstoke, West Meon and East Meon and Cheriton.

Winchester City Council yesterday warned of flood risk to the city centre.

Council staff have been monitoring and adjusting the sluice at Durngate to control water levels downstream. The maximum volume of water was yesterday flowing as fast as possible through the River Itchen and further increases in water levels may lead to flooding.

Sandbags have been distributed to homes at most risk in Water Lane.

The Environment Agency has now enforced 20 flood warnings and 99 flood alerts across the South East, and the Met Office has given yellow rain warnings for areas across Hampshire.

Hambledon has been worst affected, with residents reporting not only groundwater flooding and raw sewage spewing from man hole covers, in back gardens, and in one case inside a family home.

Approximately 140 properties have been affected, despite the 20,000 sandbags being deployed, and people are now relying on around 1,000 pumps to keep their homes from becoming submerged.

The situation doesn’t seem to be improving, and speaking in the House of Commons on Monday (February 3) Meon Valley MP, George Hollingbery, said he expects the flooding in Hambledon to remain for “at least another three weeks, perhaps six or eight.”

Tony Higham, chairman of the local flood action group, praised the work of 100 villagers who have volunteered to help.

He said: “There has been at least 50 people working throughout the village at all times, laying sandbags, making sandwiches and drinks for the army of workers, taking the elderly to their hospital appointments, helping them with anything they might need and generally trying to clear up the village.

“You wouldn’t believe it if you saw what it looks like. There is a massive amount of community spirit and it’s only with that work that we can keep the whole show on the road.”

In Cheriton groundwater levels are almost as high as the 2000/2001 floods.

Pat Lawrence is coordinating the village’s preparations. He said: “We have done everything that we possibly can.

“We have had notices put up in the local post office, issued sand bags, and been telling people to prepare themselves. We have had floods before but it’s looking now that it is going to be worse than 2001.Nobody has had to leave yet but I wouldn’t rule it out over the next 84 hours.”

Over the past 24 hours to yesterday (WED) morning Cheriton had 19mm of rain.

Mr Lawrence added: “The main problem seems to be with what we call the ‘pinch points’ – the new Admiral’s Bridge which was built in 2000/1. It doesn’t have the capacity to push the water out of the village. Back in 2000/1 we were looking at a one in one hundred year event, well that was thirteen years ago.”

The Environment Agency has also warned people to take appropriate action when alerts are in place.

A spokesman said: “We will continue to monitor the situation very closely as river and groundwater levels across the South East remain high and responsive, and standing water remains in some flood plains.”

“We are urging communities to prepare in advance by singing up for free flood warnings and to take action if they receive one. A flood warning indicates that flooding is expected and immediate action is required.”

Householders or businesses needing particular help may contact Winchester City Council on 01962 840222.