Cornwall Flash Flood Leaves Millions in Damages
Cornwall mops up after devastating flash floods
• Operation will last for months and cost millions
• Hundreds of residents driven from their homes
The Guardian (U.K.), Nov. 19, 2010
A multimillion-pound mopping-up operation was today under way in Cornwall after flash floods forced hundreds of people from their homes and devastated businesses.
All the flood and severe weather warnings for the area were lifted as the clean-up and recriminations continued.
Environment ministers are expected to make a statement to parliament, setting out extra support for some of the worst-hit areas.
The government faces criticism for cutting funding for flood defences, but promised yesterday that it would do all it could to restore towns and villages wrecked by the deluge.
Agencies including the Met Office, the Environment Agency and Cornwall council also faced questions over whether they had given sufficient warning of the downpour and been well enough prepared to cope with the aftermath.
Lord Smith, the chairman of the Environment Agency, warned that future flood defence works might be hampered by a tight funding settlement.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he said: "The good news is that now the flood waters are receding in Cornwall and now the clean-up operation has to get under way."
But he added: "Where we will have difficulty, I fear, over the coming couple of years is in starting new flood defences that might have been possible."
A swath of Cornwall, including Lostwithiel, St Blazey and the fishing port of Mevagissey, was devastated by the floods, which evoked memories of the ordeal suffered by villagers in Boscastle, north Cornwall, in 2004.
Hundreds of residents spent last night in emergency accommodation after being evacuated from their homes.
Stephen Gilbert, the Liberal Democrat MP for St Austell and Newquay, said the flood warnings for some areas had been inadequate.
Speaking to BBC Radio Cornwall from Mevagissey, he said: "There are other things the Environment Agency could do – provide early warnings when rivers are rising, provide text systems or phone calls for residents.
"In the case of St Blazey, that didn't work out quite the way it should have done."
He said he would be meeting the Environment Agency to "press them" on the issues.
Residents in the worst-hit areas expressed frustration at the lack of warnings and inadequacy of flood defences at public meetings in Mevagissey, Lostwithiel and St Blazey.
Forecasters today predicted further showers in Cornwall and the south-west, but said they would become more isolated.
The Environment Agency downgraded the number of flood warnings for the river Fowey in Lostwithiel, to a flood watch. All other rivers in the county were given the all-clear.
The Highways Agency said all major roads in Cornwall had been cleared, but that problems remained on the railways. Great Western services between Par and Newquay are likely to be suspended for seven days while engineers repair damage caused by a landslip. A replacement bus service is running between St Austell and Newquay.
Ann Bailey, who runs the Harbour Trading Company in Mevagissey, said: "We've had smaller floods before. It seems to be the same problem. The culverts get blocked with leaves and other debris at this time of the year, so the drains can't cope. The system can't handle that amount of water coming down the hill."
Peter Tatlow, of Cornwall highway services, said it was "almost impossible" to keep gullies clear of leaves and debris at this time of year.
Warnings were issued by the Flood Forecasting Centre, which is run by the Met Office and the Environment Agency, to emergency services and local councils on Tuesday afternoon.
Television and radio weather forecasters also warned that very heavy rain was on its way. However, the Met Office did not issue a severe weather warning until 10.30pm, and the Environment Agency only began sending flood warnings to people who had signed up to its warning scheme yesterday morning.
The Met Office and Environment Agency denied they could have done more, insisting warnings had gone to the relevant agencies.
The prime minister, David Cameron, promised the government would do all it could to help the affected areas to recover.
However, the government was criticised by Labour for "slashing" investment in flood defences. The Exeter MP, Ben Bradshaw, asked Cameron during prime minister's questions: "Doesn't the devastation in Cornwall illustrate the false economy of your recent decision to slash investment in flood defences?"
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs budget for flood risk management in 2010-11 is at a record level of £664m – but for the next four years it will be reduced to about £540m a year.
Cameron said: "We have made some difficult choices in this spending round, but we protected flood defences because it is important."