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England floods: Ten days ‘of difficult conditions’ expected
27 February 2020
“Another 10 days of difficult conditions” have been predicted for parts of the Midlands devastated by flooding.
There are fears Shropshire and Worcestershire, where evacuations have been taking place, will be further affected following heavy rain in Wales.
On Wednesday, barriers holding back the River Severn at Ironbridge buckled and water seeped underneath.
Up to 70 properties in East Cowick, East Yorkshire, were also flooded.
The Environment Agency has estimated that up to 500 tonnes of water a second are coursing past Ironbridge’s flood defences.
Deputy Chief Constable Julian Moss, from West Mercia Police, told a press conference on Wednesday evening that the force anticipated its presence on the ground would “continue for the next 10 days” at least.
He said emergency crews also remain on the ground in “many places that are still flooded and have been for some time”, as more wet weather was forecast.
Overnight on Tuesday, while the main flood defences in Bewdley, Worcestershire, stood firm, a swollen River Severn come over the top of those in the Beales Corner area of town.
About 40 properties were either flooded or at risk and on Wednesday some residents were rescued on a fire service dinghy, although 12 people chose to stay in their homes.
In Ironbridge, Shropshire, 35 homes were evacuated as an emergency measure when a flood barrier buckled and water seeped underneath.
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Parts of neighbouring Shrewsbury have been underwater for the past three days, while swathes of Worcestershire flooded last week in the wake of Storm Dennis.
A severe flood warning – meaning danger to life – remains in place for the Wharfage area of Ironbridge.
River levels have since dropped by just over 40cm in the town and are also down by 80cm in Shrewsbury.
Mr Moss said: “We understand the devastation and terrible impact this unprecedented situation has had on our communities.
“Floodwaters are set to recede quite slowly and are likely to be topped up again, with additional rain over the weekend and at the end of next week.
“We would therefore ask people to take this into consideration when making accommodation arrangements for themselves and any pets or livestock.”
Several road closures have been put in place due to the flooding. Telford and Wrekin Council reported that staff were being abused by thwarted motorists.
It urged drivers to “please be respectful to our staff”, whom it said were working in “very difficult circumstances”.
- River levels peaked overnight in Worcester at just under six metres and the city’s main bridge has been closed
- Levels are being monitored at Upton-upon-Severn and settlements below that, including Tewkesbury
- Villagers in nearby Snaith have criticised authorities for failing to give them enough time to save their possessions from floodwater
Chris Bainger, from the Environment Agency, said: “We have a bit of respite, we’ve just got showers moving through over the next couple of days.
“But coming into Friday we have another band of rain coming through that’s going to be up in the Welsh mountains and that’s going to be coming to us… perhaps Saturday.
“We’ve already planned another 10 days of being on 24/7 manning of our incident rooms and having operational staff at all of our barriers.”
The damage to the barriers at Ironbridge will be investigated over the next couple of days and the Environment Agency will aim to repair or replace damaged panels ahead of the weekend.
Why did the barriers buckle?
Permanent flood defences aren’t a feasible option in a place like Ironbridge – its special historical and scientific significance means that temporary barriers are a better alternative.
The barriers – A-frame posts lined with sheets of metal and a plastic covering that are weighed down with sandbags – are not fixed to the ground.
They are susceptible to movement, however, movement like that seen in Ironbridge was “unprecedented,” said Nick Green, from the Environment Agency.
The Severn did not come over the top of the barriers but it came very close, and this, combined with the sheer weight of the eddying river, combined to push some defences back up to two metres.
“It also depends on the level of the surface they’re placed on to,” Mr Green said. “They do follow topography, so you will get low points.” It was at the lowest point of the Beales Corner defences where water came over the top on Tuesday night, he said.
The defences in the Wharfage also follow the line of a hill, meaning that some of the barriers could not be placed completely flat. This affected the strength of the inlaid metal slats, which work best when they are perfectly horizontal.
Mr Green said about five sections of the Ironbridge defences were pushed back due to the force of the water. These will be assessed for damage and replaced if necessary once the river subsides – in time for further rain forecast for the weekend.
Shropshire Council said it would need to inspect 30 bridges across the county for damage caused by the floods.
Structural engineers have been deployed to Coalport Bridge where the force of the Severn has caused damage to brickwork.
Tim Smith, from the council, said the damage was not “a significant risk” but a weight limit had been put in place before it could be properly investigated once the waters have subsided.
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