Thought These Floods Were Bad? Here's Why It'll Only Get Worse

Daily Mail (London), September 27, 2012 | Go to article overview

Thought These Floods Were Bad? Here's Why It'll Only Get Worse


Byline: by David Derbyshire

UNTIL you've walked into a home that's been flooded, you cannot begin to imagine the destruction, the chaos and the anguish.

Unlike the 400 or so families mopping up their wrecked homes across the north of England, I've been lucky. I've never had my treasured possessions destroyed in a torrent of foul-smelling sewage, river water and dirt.

But some years ago I stood with my mother in her flooded threebedroomed house in Lewes, East Sussex, stunned at the scale of devastation around us.

The previous night, while she was staying with relatives, water had swept through her home after a day of torrential rain.

Within hours, her furniture, papers, photographs and books were floating on a slick of oily muck, 5ft deep. As the waters receded, her belongings were dumped higgledy piggledy on the sodden carpets.

A Sixties sideboard was upside down, balanced on a tattered Dickens novel and crystal wine glass. The floor was strewn with soaked wedding photos. Around us lay a lifetime of ruined mementos -- from letters to my school reports -- coated in a smear of silt.

It was as if the sickest, most violent poltergeist imaginable had been let loose.

It took weeks for the house to dry, and seven months before the new internal walls and redecoration were finished.

She was fortunate -- her insurance paid for a replacement TV, sofa and carpets. But her family photographs, videos, letters and books were lost for ever. Not all of her neighbours were insured.

Back in 2000, my mother's personal disaster was unusual. In the previous 40 years, floods of that scale had happened once or twice a decade, usually in winter.

But since the late Nineties, something has changed. Nowadays, barely a year goes by without one, sometimes two, major floods.

This week's chaos comes three months after floods in June and July brought misery to Northern Ireland, Wales and the South West. There were floods in Sheffield in June 2009, and more in Cumbria and southern England in November of the same year.

Nearly 1,000 homes were deluged in Morpeth in September 2008, while the summer of 2007 saw 55,000 homes flooded. There were floods in 2005, in 2000 and in 1998. Some hydrologists say the run of floods is bad luck. Others believe the pattern of Britain's floods and rainfall is changing.

Historically, the UK has suffered from winter floods. These occur after the slow, but relentless, build up of rain over winter months saturates the ground and finds its way into rivers which burst their banks.

They are also caused by melting snow, as in the great floods of 1947 when heavy rain was followed by snowmelt which caused river levels to rise at a foot an hour and 100,000 properties were damaged; or coastal storms and tidal surges such as happened in the 1953 flood when more than 300 died.

However, the floods of recent times have brought chaos in the summer and autumn, usually after sudden, torrential downpours.

Prof Edmund Penning-Rowsell, of Middlesex University's Flood Hazard Research Centre, said: 'We appear to be shifting to a situation where you get a lot of rain and you get surface water flooding -- sudden rainfall is driving the flooding.' There have been torrential downpours before. In July 1955, a record ten inches fell in Martinstown, Dorset. But these downpours appear to be getting more frequent. A study at Newcastle University concluded storms have become twice as heavy since the Sixties -- and the most torrential occur four times as often. …

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