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Lincolnshire floods help East Anglian team prepare for emergencies back home

PUBLISHED: 11:27 13 July 2019 | UPDATED: 11:58 13 July 2019

More than 580 homes in and around Wainfleet were evacuated last month Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

More than 580 homes in and around Wainfleet were evacuated last month Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

PA Wire/PA Images

The Environment Agency's operations manager for Norfolk and Suffolk, Graham Verrier, was among a team from the region to help out after floods hit Lincolnshire last month.

Cattle stranded in floodwater near Wainfleet after the River Steeping breached its banks. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA WireCattle stranded in floodwater near Wainfleet after the River Steeping breached its banks. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

Since the big flood of 1953, which killed hundreds and left thousands homeless across the East of England, flood defence systems have been improved continuously with the aim of ensuring East Anglia never succumbs to a natural disaster of such proportions again.

Early warning systems are much more sophisticated than they were 70 years ago and defences more resilient. And while staff at the Environment Agency (EA) hold regular training exercises to prepare for a flooding incident, there's nothing like being involved in a real life emergency to hone skills.

Evacuated

Last month 16 EA staff from East Anglia re-located to Lincolnshire to support colleagues who were in the midsts of a major flooding event. More than 580 homes in and around the town of Wainfleet were evacuated after heavy rains led to the River Steeping bursting its banks on June 12.

Rescue workers in Wainfleet All Saints, in Lincolnshire, where streets and properties are flooded Picture: Joe Giddens/PA WireRescue workers in Wainfleet All Saints, in Lincolnshire, where streets and properties are flooded Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

READ MORE: Make best use of time to prepare for sea level rise, says coast flood expert

The East Anglian team helped out in a variety of incident roles and one of the most senior people to make the journey was Graham Verrier, the EA's operations manager for Norfolk and Suffolk, who said the problems around Wainfleet were caused by two months worth of rain falling in two days. This led to a huge amount of water coming over the river's embankments and caused a sizeable breach.

Mr Verrier worked four night shifts as area duty manager from the EA's control centre in Lincoln.

He said: "Sandbags were dropped in with the help of the RAF and as I was covering the night shift, a lot of my work was focussed on trying to get things in place ready for the next day; monitoring to see if the sandbags were holding and checking at first light if there was any leaking.

"I was also involved in liaising with the team setting up the ultra-volume pumps and keeping in touch to make sure as the water went down, we reduced the pumping levels as well."

Graham Verrier debriefing with colleague in the Ipswich Incident Room  Pic: Elliott FurnissGraham Verrier debriefing with colleague in the Ipswich Incident Room Pic: Elliott Furniss

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This is not the first flooding incident outside East Anglia that Mr Verrier has attended. In recent years he has spent time in Cumbria, Yorkshire and the Thames catchment, contributing expertise while there but also returning with best practice to apply on his home turf.

He added: "We train every month and are constantly keeping on top of things, and we also run exercises, which condense a big incident into a day. But attending an incident gives you a chance to review what we do and we can bring that knowledge back to tweak our processes. It might be a small thing around how we communicate or a way of working that saves some time."

Summer storm

Mr Verrier says the inundation that caused all the damage in Lincolnshire last month, when nearly 130 homes were flooded, was the result of a summer storm - a phenomenon that is more difficult to predict than other potential flood risk natural events.

Emergency services gather during Wainfleet floods Pic: Environment AgencyEmergency services gather during Wainfleet floods Pic: Environment Agency

"With tidal surges, we know 36 hours out what they are going to do, and typically, winter storms are caused by a weather front coming across and within reason you know where the rain is going to fall," he continued.

"But with summer storms it is much more difficult to pinpoint where the heavy rain might hit and where the surface water might build up.

"Their convected nature means a storm can bubble up from anywhere and the first indication will be it forming up on the screen in front of you rather than a front coming up.

READ MORE: River flotilla being held to raise money for Suffolk flood defences

"These storms can also be very specific - we'll get a yellow alert that there is a thunder storm but it is difficult to know where it might hit. We've seen it where a storm has hit only one small part of Norwich or on Canvey Island where there has been intense rain on the island but if you were off the island you wouldn't have known there was any rain at all."

He added: "We can absolutely see a trend towards these events happening more frequently, as the summers become wetter and there are more intense weather events.

"The climate is much more uncertain and more of these big events are happening now."

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