SOLDIERS were today building a third and fourth emergency barrier near Winchester in a bid to save the city from the deluge.

An eight-man team from 22 Royal Engineers, based at Tidworth, were lowering more than 200 giant bags filled with gravel into the River Itchen near Kings Worthy.

A giant Army crane is parked on the edge of the southbound A33, causing one lane to be closed.

The aim is to restrict the flow of the water and divert much of it on to surrounding flood land that will reduce the pressure two miles downstream in the city centre. At the moment it appears to be working.

Andy Hickman, head of projects at Winchester City Council: said: “This is the second stage of the work that we started at Easton a few days ago.

“We are slowing down the flow and creating a storage area to the east of here in the water meadows. That will enable the water to go at a slower rate and give time for the water to drain away downstream.

In the city centre itself, a second metal barrier was erected early today in Park Avenue next to the School of Art.

The fire service is operating powerful pumps that are diverting water at the rate 70 litres a second past the affected area and down to the River Itchen at The Weirs. The move means will ease pressure on the sewer drains in the three Brook streets.

Mr Hickman said: “We have done a lot of work in the city. We have tried to be proactive and hoping to make a difference. There has been a lot of effort. We can’t say this work at Easton and here has done everything but it has contributed.”

He said the water levels were now higher than in the previous flood winter of 2000-01 that saw St Bede school submerged.

Andrew Gilham, flood manager for the environment agency, said the sandbag work would move a short distance upstream this afternoon - the fourth and final structure in the present scheme.

He said there were no current plans for further work in the Winchester area but a similar scheme was set for Romsey in the near future.

Mr Gilham added that about ten houses in Winchester were currently flooded but stressed that the figure would be much higher without the work of the Environment Agency, fire service, city council and armed forces.

Also at the scene was local city councillor Kim Gottlieb who said: “They're doing a superb job which is being carried out very carefully and methodically. It has been very worrying for local people but if you give them the facts they understand.”

Mr Hickman paid tribute to the two landowners, Lord Strafford and the owner of the Fulling Mill in Abbots Worthy, who gave permission for the work to be done. “They have beenfabulous. The Environment Agency has given them assurances it won’t affect their properties.”

One the soldiers involved in the operation, Sgt Richie Smith, of the Royal Engineers, said: “It's good to be able to help - that's what the army is all about.”

Meanwhile in Water Lane, resident Dan Noakes said the pumps working 24 hours a day were keeping the floodwater out of the houses.