Who's to Blame For the Recent UK Flooding?
The Doncaster Flood (June 2007). The Flood Water Level Can Be Seen In This Photo On Walls And Windows
In June 2007, My Buy-To-Let Property Was Flooded
The floodwater was over three feet deep in the kitchen and utility. It was a house that I'd only just finished renovating that same week.
It's easy to apportion blame and my initial reaction was to blame the water board. If they can regulate canals why can't they regulate rivers too? Why can't they dig more reservoirs in preparation for an excess of water? After all, they opened the sluice gates and dumped millions of gallons of water into the river Don, inundating the whole village of Toll Bar with hardly any warning to residents.
I don't blame God; the ‘Act of God’ theory is not fair to God as again it was the water board that displaced all that water from a dam in Sheffield which was in danger of bursting. God only causes the rain to fall but the nice people at the water board saw to it that Toll Bar received everyone else's fair share of rain too.
After surveying the damage in Doncaster, we could do little more until the water subsided. We drove home twelve miles north to land that wasn't quite as wet. The drive we share with two other houses was still flooding during periods of heavy rainfall. The water went away one day and was back with a vengeance the next, much to the distress of our neighbour who'd now enlisted the help of a local councillor and the fire brigade because they were the only folk who had any pumps.
The council, in their infinite wisdom, don't want to know about blocked drains on private drives but they readily consented to further houses being built on flood plains and now the drains couldn't cope. They could easily be blamed for concreting over the landscape as there's nowhere for excess water to go. People will always need more housing as the population increases but the more land used for construction, the less natural drainage there is. Or blame the waterways people for not dredging as much as they should. All that debris is taking up valuable space.
Improvising hubby made a jetty out of old wooden beams and worktops. It was still raining almost continually. We began to wonder if there was any more up there. A friend of mine who makes signs and labels for a living engraved one especially for me and stuck it on my garage door:
‘GONE FISHING... HA, HA’
My Builders Were Glad of the Work!
What To Claim And Who To Blame!
When I submitted my claim to the insurance company over the phone, the lady at the claims department thought I was exaggerating, I'm certain, making me feel as if I was to blame.
‘It's not like someone just left the tap on.’ I explained. ‘There's a real flood!’ I thought I'd better not sound too cheerful in case she thought I'd arranged the entire deluge intentionally. Why do I always act guilty when I'm telling the truth? It wasn't me who opened the sluice gates! At least it was one thing my husband couldn't blame on me.
‘I'll arrange for the loss adjuster to come out on Sunday,’ said the lady at the call centre, reminding me of the 1000 GB pounds excess on my policy. Well, my claim will be a heck of a lot more than that, I muttered to myself while she put me on hold and I listened to some banal jingle which at very least was better than Handel's water music.
‘Don't bother sending the adjuster yet unless he has a boat,’ I explained. ‘There's an awful lot of water and by Sunday I don't reckon it'll have gone away.’
‘We need proof,’ she continued haughtily.
‘It's not just our property that's affected, it's the entire village. There are police roadblocks and no one can get access to their homes at all.’
She took some convincing, that gal.
The Utility Area
Meanwhile Back At My Own Home...
Later that day, our own drive was more like a canal. My neighbour was despairing, standing ankle deep in contaminated water. ‘Someone must be willing to shoulder the blame for all this,’ he gasped, but no-one had found anyone yet.
We both made further phone calls in the hope that someone would come to our assistance. The scenario continued until Friday night, after yet more rain, when we found that the only way to stop the neighbouring garage from flooding was for both families to form a human chain, emptying buckets of stinking water into an unblocked drain at the end of the garden. It made no real difference and in the end, we had to call the fire brigade again who remained for most of the night, pumping water away. On Saturday morning, some understanding plumbing firm with one of those Dyno-rod things came to our aid and cleared the blockage which is what should have happened at the beginning of the week.
During that week no one we appealed to for assistance had any idea what to do. The council, to whom we pay 1500 GB pounds per annum in council tax, were no use at all. Their drains are ancient and blocked with leaves and silt and they have no tried and tested means of remedying the situation. Even locating sandbags proved difficult - the army was the only folk who had any.
At least things didn't get as bad as at our buy-to-let in Doncaster; the ground floor there was underwater, at least up to the letterbox for over a week.
A Big Job For My Builder
There Were Floods Of Emotions Too!
I tried hard to see the funny side. All that hard work installing fire doors, a smoke-alarm system, fire exits, fire blankets and extinguishers and then there was a flood!
We all like to blame someone, it's human nature, so on Saturday afternoon I drank too much red wine with dinner, got annoyed and decided to phone all the tabloids to complain about the stupid idiots at the water board. After voicing initial interest, the guy at the ‘Daily Mail’ said: ‘Could you phone back tomorrow as reports are coming in of an incident at Glasgow airport.’
How easy it is for anything to become stale news. I would have asked him who he thought was to blame if he hadn't been in such a rush.
On Sunday, I received a voicemail message from a female loss adjuster who was trying to find our flooded property. The line was bad and I could hardly understand her accent. Trust the insurance people not to take any notice when I told them not to send anyone just yet. She had come all the way from Ireland.
It was well into the following week before the extent of the damage in Doncaster was recognised for the disaster it truly was. But at least no one had lost their lives or become seriously injured. If that lady at the call centre had been watching the national news that week, she would now have all the proof she needed!
After the nationwide TV coverage, a visit to the locality from Prince Charles and my flooded property appearing on the front cover of the ‘Daily Mail,’(I wonder, did my inebriated phone call do the trick?) the folk at the claims department were beginning to believe me at last! The friendly, bearded chap from the local post office was in the newspaper too. There was a centre-page picture of him standing knee-deep in water alongside the royal rubber dingy, with his Wellington boots and oilcloths making him look more like ‘Captain Birdseye’ than a postmaster.
The floodwater was eventually pumped away (fire brigade saves the day again) and a week later we were allowed back to view the damage. We had to go and secure the place with padlocks as looting had now been reported.
The whole village of Toll Bar was like a war zone. There was a gaping hole in the front garden where electricity cables had been severed and the gas board had dug an assortment of craters in the pavement outside each house. Flood-damaged furniture, its upholstery bloated and veneers peeling, lined the main road. The guy at the car lot next to Toll Bar stores had now taken his waterlogged cars a few hundred yards along the road - to a conveniently located scrap yard.
Curiously, people were no longer blaming anyone; they were all getting on with clearing up and putting on a brave face. Community spirit was admirable.
Our house smelled like a cave at low tide - not quite as unpleasant as I'd expected. The water rose slightly above the level of the kitchen worktops ruining all the new electrical items we'd left there. The whole of the ground floor was a wreck and required total renovation.
So for property developers like us, it was back to square one and it was sod's law that the flood never happened six months previously - before we'd begun to renovate first time around. I phoned the electric company to ensure that the supply to the property was cut and Transco to change the gas meter. Then it was buckets at the ready to wash away several inches of silt from the backyard.
Should we blame our solicitor for not letting us know the property we bought was in an area prone to severe flooding when there were no defences in place? In light of current events, we soon discovered that back in 1947 the whole area had been flooded. No, I can't blame our solicitor who always acts in our best interests. Blame one generation perhaps for not addressing or even remembering the experiences of another.
The loss adjuster arrived the following Wednesday, 11th July and then the real cleanup began, getting rid of damaged items which had been too heavy to carry upstairs. A few days later and the whole of the ground floor was a building site, much to the delight of my builder. Kitchen units were ripped out, the fireplace was in the skip, and it was back to bare bricks where freshly plastered and decorated walls stood proudly just a fortnight before.
Beneath the floorboards lay further revelations; a ‘sleeper wall had toppled over with the force of the water. My builder took photos for me to send to the loss adjuster so he would send a surveyor out. I winced at the quotation to reinstate everything but knew that householders with no insurance would fare a lot worse.
The total repair bill was 65.000 GB pounds. Thankfully the insurance company has settled it but if it happens again will insurers refuse to pay if no-one has bothered to put flood defences in place?
Most summers in the UK bring talk of a drought and threats of hosepipe bans but the summer of 2007 caught us totally unprepared. The Dutch have pumps on standby to assist them before waters rise to alarming levels but we in the UK just grab our wellingtons and go in search of sandbags, totally surprised by extremes of weather.
The Entire Ground Floor Needed Renovating
All Back to Normal!
By March 2008 the community at Toll Bar has bounced back. The majority of homes have been dried out and their ground floors re-instated awaiting re-occupation. After spending winter in caravans on fields behind their homes, the hardy flood victims will be glad to move back.
The general consensus is that nobody was to blame but if it happens again we will all be to blame for our apathy. Flood defences need to be put in place as soon as possible because, with the unpredictable and freak weather we have already experienced, we need to be prepared for every eventuality.
My builder has just finished renovating my property. When he brought me the new keys and the mail there was a letter from the environment agency. On the front of the envelope in big bold lettering, it said:
OFFICIAL WARNING: YOUR HOME IS AT RISK FROM FLOODING.
No kidding. Such pearls of wisdom from the powers that be, as if we didn't already know. And the leaflet inside never mentioned that the government was actually planning to do anything to address the problem in the future. If there is another flood, I think perhaps I’ll blame them.
To see if your home might be at risk of flooding in England and Wales, check out The Environment Agency.
What Was the Kitchen
Footage of the 2007 Flooding in Doncaster, UK
Flood Victims Wait For Repair Work
© 2017 Stella Kaye