'Overhaul flood warning system'

A radical overhaul of the flood warning system is needed to prevent a repeat of the “abandonment” of some sections of the East Anglian coast during the recent devastating coastal floods, community leaders and politicians claimed last night.

A radical overhaul of the flood warning system is needed to prevent a repeat of the "abandonment" of some sections of the

East Anglian coast during the recent devastating coastal floods, community leaders and politicians claimed last night.

Campaigners feel the current set-up failed certain communities last week, especially Walcott, which was put on a relatively low- level warning by the Environment Agency, but ended up suffering severe levels of damage.

Although many of the agencies have been praised for their response to the floods, systemic failures were exposed as a result of the events, said campaigners, including North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb.

As well as the controversial issue of why the emergency flood siren at Walcott was not sounded during the night last Friday, concerns have been raised about the way the Environment Agency gauges the danger to life and property, with many people claiming the measurements made for Walcott were flawed.

This, in turn, led to late evacuations, damage to cars and household property which could have been moved if more warning had been given and unnecessary distress among many of those affected, especially the elderly and less mobile sections of the community.

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Last night, the Environment Agency appeared to concede its systems may not be up to scratch, saying that some "unusual" sequences of events may need to be given different treatment in the future.

Mr Lamb said: "The experience of last week reinforces the case for keeping the sirens along the coast, which are threatened with being scrapped at a time when we all know the threat of these events is increasing."

Clive Stockton, who lives in neighbouring Happisburgh and is North Norfolk District Council's cabinet member for coastal issues, said the Environment Agency system failed to take into account all the factors.

Many of the concerns were aired at a public meeting in Walcott yesterday afternoon, where Paul Morse, county councillor for the area, said: "Walcott was let down, it didn't feel like there was a co-ordinated response. There were wonderful examples of self-help, but if the system had worked people could have left in a much more orderly way."

Lee Garrigan, district councillor for Walcott, said people in the village had felt "abandoned" by recent events.

One member of the public said during the meeting: "Everybody knows that the lack of sirens that night was a cock-up. The flood wardens on the ground knew they were necessary, asked for them to be turned on and were told 'no'. What happens next time?"

Environment Agency spokesman Rita Penman told the EDP: "The water levels have been higher before and there has

been no flooding. This was caused by a combination of the large waves, minimal beach material, which absorbs the shock of the waves, a lack of drainage in the town and the wind direction.

"We are reviewing our procedures to allow for this unusual sequence of events in the future so that we can put out a flood warning if that is necessary."

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