Floods - what can be done

Despite this week's deluge Suffolk has thankfully avoided the worst of this summer's floods . . . so far. But is the freak weather our fault and what can we do to keep our homes safe?

Despite this week's deluge Suffolk has thankfully avoided the worst of this summer's floods . . . so far.

But is the freak weather our fault and what can we do to keep our homes safe?

Today environment editor PAUL GEATER investigates.

ACROSS Yorkshire and the midlands thousands of homes have been left inhabitable by this summer's floods - and a similar scene could be repeated in parts of Ipswich and Felixstowe if the conditions were right.

But householders whose homes are vulnerable to flood can take steps to reduce the risk . . . although when flood levels approach those seen in the Doncaster and Sheffield areas over the last fortnight there is a limit to what can be done to protect homes.

Not all homes are vulnerable to flooding - put simply the higher the ground your home is built on, the less likely it is to be at risk.

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That does mean, however, that many of the new homes that have been built around the Waterfront area could be at risk.

The designers of these buildings have taken this risk into consideration when they are built - many blocks have no homes on the ground floor to ensure that no homes would be flooded out.

Often garages or parking spaces are built on the ground floor of new tower blocks, in the hope that the owners of vehicles would have time to move them before the flood water rises.

If you want to check whether your home is at risk the government's Environment Agency has produced a map showing areas where flooding could be a problem.

This can be found at www.environment-agency.gov.uk and by following the link on the home page.

In Ipswich it is homes near the Rivers Orwell and Gipping which are most at risk.

There are two flooding risks in the town - from exceptionally high tides up the River Orwell and from heavy inland rainfall flowing down the Gipping.

Flooding caused problems near the Wet Dock in 1953 when the tidal surge caused widespread devastation around the East Anglian coast.

And heavy rain upstream caused the River Gipping to flood, inundating what is now the Ipswich Village area, in 1939.

Anyone wanting information on how to prepare for flooding can download a information leaflet about preparations through the Environment Agency website.

But the message is: prepare in advance and you may save yourself heartache.

There is, however, one word of warning. If flood water is more than a metre deep, then trying to keep it out of your home may cause more damage than letting it flow through.

Keeping out high levels of water will put a serious strain on the walls of the house and could ultimately lead to more damage than if the water is flows through the building.

How you can protect your home:

Sandbags:

The traditional method of keeping water out of your home is useful protection against the danger of splashes or of washes from boats, but against standing water their effectiveness is very limited.

Once they become sodden they will not keep the water out.

Most countcils will provide sandbags to homes at risk of flooding. Ipswich Council will provide up to 10 empty sandbags free to any householder who wants them while Suffolk Coastal council will sell as many empty bags as you want for 24p each.

It is not aviseable to keep sandbags full because they will deteriorate. It is best to keep empty bags and a supply of sand you can fill them with when the need arises.

Floodboards:

More effective protection against flooding for properties at serious risk. These boards can be fitted if flooding is predicted and do hold water back much more effectively.

They need to be properly fitted to be completely effective but offer a good degree of protection.

General flood protection:

Schemes like the Felixstowe seafront protection gates are similar to floodboards - and having steel gates and a wall around your property certainly can help to increase the level of protection.

However this is probably only an option if your home is very liable to flooding - and you have neighbours who don't mind you turning your property into something that resembles Colditz!

WE MAY be clearing up after this week's storms, but a top climatologist today warned that 2007 remains on course to be the warmest ever in Britain.

And while it is far too early to say whether this summer's downpours have been the result of climate change, the intensity of the rain could be linked.

Professor Phil Jones, head of the climate research unit at the University of East Anglia, said it was often only possible to link weather patterns with climate change once long-term analysis was undertaken.

“It's not possible to sit here with this kind of thing happening and say that it is or is not caused by climate change.

“What we can say, however, is that this year is so far the warmest on record. That might seem odd with the kind of weather we are having now but if you put your mind back to the early part of this year and to the April heatwave you will recall it was very mild.

“It is much easier to relate temperature patterns to climate change than increases in rainfall.

“But one factor that is noteworthy is that as the temperature rises then the intensity of the rainfall increases.

“Often you get the same level of rainfall across the year, but it falls in more intense storms like those we saw in East Anglia this week.”

Prof Jones said the wet weather was being caused by a succession of depressions which were tracking across Britain rather than heading north of the country.

He said: “It has also been caused by a block of hot air over central and eastern Europe which is giving record high temperatures over Greece - it was 45C in Athens the other day.”

Prof Jones said while the heavy summer rain was disappointing, it was not unheard of and did not in itself indicate a major change in the British climate.

He said: “We do get summers where a succession of depressions come over Britain rather than going north of the country. This is not something in itself which is unusual.

“But when we look at the long term trends, there may be something we can learn.”

And he has not given up hope that we could still enjoy better weather during the second half of the summer.

“It is still quite possible that there will be good weather building up at the end of July and into August,” he said.

POLITICIANS from Ipswich today pledged to look again at the town's flood protection.

Council leader Liz Harsant said the scenes from Yorkshire and the midlands, coupled with this week's deluge, had shown that homes in part of the town could be vulnerable.

“We have to look at what measures we can adopt to reduce the risk of flooding.

“With flash floods one of the major worries is the number of homes where the gardens have been concreted over, so the water cannot be absorbed into the ground.

“It all has to run away into drains, and if the rain is very heavy like it was on Tuesday then it is very difficult for them to cope.

“We have to look at whether too many gardens are being paved over and urge householders to consider other options.”

Mrs Harsant also said the council would consider helping householders in vulnerable areas to install flood boards to help them keep out water.

She said: “That's not really an option I had been aware of until now, but after seeing what has been happening it may well be worth investigating - we are now all aware of the devastation that flooding can cause.”

Mrs Harsant is currently at the Local Government Association conference in Birmingham with Liberal Democrat group leader Richard Atkins and other leading councillors.

They have been discussing flooding issues with councillors from across the country whose areas have been hit over recent weeks.

Mr Atkins said: “Some of what we have heard is very concerning, in Hull there are 1,600 homes that will be uninhabitable for up to six months. We would want to avoid that happening here if at all possible.

“We have strict planning guidelines for new homes in flood-prone areas. For instance many of the new homes in the Waterfront only have living accommodation from the first floor up, the ground floor is garaging or other service use.”

He agreed that paving over of gardens was a serious problem in creating flash floods: “There are other ways of tidying up gardens - there is material you can put down to trap rainwater and we should look at solutions like that,” he said.

Labour environment spokesman Neil Macdonald said the council should press the Environment Agency to come up with a comprehensive flood protection plan for the town.

“The Environment Agency was working on a report last year but it seems to have gone a bit quiet over recent months.

“The events of the last few weeks show how important it is to have a plan in place if the worst happens,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the Environment Agency said that although this area had suffered from flash flooding, there was no pressure on Suffolk's river system because the downpours had been very localised.

“Although the rain was very hard, it was not over a very wide area so while there were flash floods on roads the water dispersed reasonably well.

“In Yorkshire there was a large area of rain over a long period - that is what caused the serious flooding there,” she said.

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