Report examines response to Lowestoft and Southwold tidal surge

Lowestoft Storm Floods.
London Road South.

Lowestoft Storm Floods. London Road South.

©Archant 2013

The devastating impact and consequences of the tidal surge that battered Lowestoft and Southwold in December have been laid bare in a council report that says lessons have been learned from the floods.

Lings Honda in Horn Hill Lowestoft during the tidal surge of December 5, 2013 Lings Honda in Horn Hill Lowestoft during the tidal surge of December 5, 2013

Waveney District Council has published a report into December 5’s surge, which sets out the authority’s response to the event, which led to 167 premises being flooded and 77 people being put up in special evacuation centres. The report details how reviews have been carried out on the evacuation and clean-up process.

In the wake of the report, Waveney leader Colin Law praised people’s response to the floods, but said the council was determined to learn lessons and be as well prepared as possible for any future incidents.

The report defends the council stance of not handing out sandbags to residents and businesses, praises the response by council staff and emergency services and partnership agencies and says lessons have been learned in the key areas of information sharing, response and recovery co-ordination and communications.

Waveney’s report also admits that some areas were missed for evacuation and other areas were advised to evacuate in error and that, at its peak, flood waters were only 6cm lower than the 1953 floods disaster.

Notleys in Lowestoft during the tidal surge of December 5, 2013 Notleys in Lowestoft during the tidal surge of December 5, 2013

The report, called East Coast Tidal Surge, says: “Overall, the multi-agency response to this crisis worked well. Crucially, unlike 1953, no one died or was seriously injured.

“The council, its staff and members worked around the clock to provide a rapid and effective response during the emergency phase, staffing rest centres and providing front-line support to the public.

“There was significant investment of staff resources during the recovery phase helping to provide the necessary advice, support and funding to help residents and businesses recover from the flooding.”

The tidal surge saw 90 commercial and 60 residential premises in Lowestoft and Oulton Broad flooded and in Southwold seven commercial properties and two homes were flooded,

The report shows the cost of the tidal surge to Waveney was £206,000 and that, in its aftermath, all premises flooded were visited by council staff.

The authority’s operational partners, Waveney Norse, spent an additional 332 crew hours during a clean-up operation which saw 78 tonnes of water-damaged items and material collected free of charge.

However in a “lessons learned” section of the report, the council admits that, as it was not possible to electronically share flood risk maps, some areas were not evacuated while others were evacuated “in error”. It also says an incomplete recovery assessment was carried out before clean-up operations, and media operations could have been improved to provide local information.

The report adds: “There are always lessons to be learned following any incident or exercise and it is important that these are used to amend and improve the council’s emergency response and recovery plans.”

When the tidal surge was about to hit Lowestoft, residents and businesses had complained that the council did not hand out sandbags to protect properties.

But the report described the matter as a “burning issue” which had resulted in highly critical feedback from the community and negative media coverage.

However it adds that two flood review workshops concluded the countywide policy of not handing out sandbags was still appropriate and that more should be done to promote flood awareness and preparedness targeted at homeowners and businesses.

Mr Law, commenting on the report, said: “The December flood was an unparalleled event and brought out the very best in councillors, council staff and community groups who worked tirelessly and around the clock to support those who had been affected.

“That work has continued in the months following the tidal surge with council teams continuing to support residents and businesses in their efforts to return to normal through regular visits and a range of financial schemes to help those in need.

“Every emergency is different and so needs a different response and, while we did our best, we also know that not everything went as well as would have liked. We would not have expected the response and recovery to be perfect, however we are not resting on our laurels and this report reflects our determination to learn important lessons and ensure that we are as well prepared as possible for any future events.”

Mr Law also said: “Those with properties that suffered flooding will be aware of the Repair and Renew scheme which we are managing on behalf of the government which offers up to £5,000 per property for a range of measures such as removable flood boards or gates.”

“These are far more effective than sandbags in preventing water getting through doorways and are much more likely to provide protection during floods.”

The report will be discussed by Waveney’s overview and scrutiny committee on Tuesday to help the council improve its preparedness for any future flooding incidents.

Tod Sullivan was leader of the Labour opposition group at the time of the tidal surge and had asked for the flood response to be examined by the council’s overview and scrutiny committee.

He said: “Everyone in Lowestoft recognises that the tidal surge was a very serious event. There was exceptional work done by staff across the council to ensure that the town was prepared and not worse affected.

“However it is clear that vulnerable communities want to be sure that they are being kept in mind, that they are helped to prepare their homes for future events.

“Also lessons can also be learned about communication and help for those people least able to help themselves.”

The report also says that the government has handed over £160,000 directly to Waveney as a result of the floods and £91,056 had been handed out to businesses and people through the Journal’s sister paper the EDP’s flood appeal.

It also mentions how the first phase of urgent wall repairs to Lowestoft South Beach is due to start shortly with 6,000 tonnes of rocks coming from Norway for the nine-week project.

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