As Britain is battered by ever more extreme weather, this one-off documentary visits the country’s hardest-hit towns and villages to gain a unique perspective of the devastation caused by worsening flooding.
“It’s frightening, you know you can’t get out. We’ve got windows you can jump out of, but what do you jump into? Six foot of torrent that’s going to sweep you away into the river. So you’re trapped inside.” – Roger Benn, travel agent in Mytholmroyd
Featuring dramatic footage of flooded-out residents being evacuated from communities including Mytholmroyd in Yorkshire and Tenbury Wells in Worcestershire during the recent Storms Ciara and Dennis, the programme also has access to workers from the Environment Agency, chronicling their attempts to stop the flow.
In December 2015 the Calder Valley in Yorkshire was devastated by floods and as a result, millions of pounds were invested in defences. Some of those, however, including a £30m scheme in the village of Mytholmroyd, were not due to be completed until this summer.
So when Storm Ciara hit Mytholmroyd early in February, it was quickly deluged in 5ft of water, meaning residents and business owners couldn’t protect their properties in time.
“We can’t get flood insurance for businesses so once again we’ve lost everything, we’ve lost thousands of pounds’ worth of stock. It really is devastating.” – Salon owner Rebecca Haigh
Many now face months of repair work and questions are being raised about why the flooding was much more severe than predicted and why existing barriers didn’t hold. Suzanne Stankard, a Leeds Arts University lecturer, says:
“The water’s a metre high, nobody can get in or out. I was upstairs and I just cried, really bawled my eyes out, just [at] the trauma of it – it’s like a violation.”
The programme shows business owners confronting Environment Agency staff about the floods in a heated public meeting as villagers brace themselves for further disaster with news that just a week later, Storm Dennis is approaching and is predicted to be even worse.
One place resting easier after a 2013 tidal surge flooded 900 properties is Boston in Lincolnshire. The agency started work 2 years ago on a £100 million barrier in the Haven estuary. Cameras follow the project as it nears completion and the 370 tonne barrier gate has now been shifted into position, with the help of a surprise addition – Fairy liquid.
But the Environment Agency can’t fund a huge infrastructure project for every community, and back in the Calder Valley, residents repeatedly hit by floods think a more realistic solution might be to adapt their homes to the inevitable future floods rather than building ever higher flood defences.
The programme goes inside the agency incident room as staff and emergency services gear up for West Yorkshire to be badly hit by Storm Dennis – and tension is high as the MoD sends in soldiers to construct barriers and repair flood defences.
Staff think flooding is likely to be worse than during Storm Ciara due to rain falling on already saturated ground, and local people can only watch as the rivers rise, anticipating the deluge ahead.
Meanwhile, in Tenbury Wells in Worcestershire, where river levels reach unprecedented levels, people say they are shocked and unprepared for flooding. Peter, Helen and their teenage daughter Abbey have been advised to evacuate but they can’t decide. Down the road, Dawn and Ian are refusing to leave their house even when the electricity goes.
In Fishlake, South Yorkshire, which flooded in November after the nearby River Don Burst its banks, residents are counting the cost of repairing the water damage.
“You work all your life to get your house nice, and then you’ve got nothing. We’re left with a shell. It’s not our home any more. If this happened again it would destroy us.” – Practice nurse Sandra Liddle
As water levels rise and residents and agency staff go into overdrive, this documentary shows how the damage caused by flooding can be more than economic.
Britain Underwater: Fighting the Floods, tonight at 9pm on ITV, STV and UTV.