Praise for response to major flood threat

JON WELCH Emergency services, volunteers, council staff and the public were praised yesterday for their response to last week's flood alert on the Norfolk coast.

JON WELCH

Emergency services, volunteers, council staff and the public were praised yesterday for their response to last week's flood alert on the Norfolk coast.

But Norfolk County Council's fire and community protection review panel heard criticism of some aspects of the official response, including the decision not to sound flood sirens.

Norfolk's chief fire officer Richard Elliott told the meeting at County Hall that resources, including 20 specialist boats and 12 heavy pumping units, had been brought into Norfolk and Suffolk from elsewhere in the country in anticipation.

"We had a plan, it was a very good plan and if we had needed to deploy it in full, I'm confident we had sufficient resources that we would have had no loss of life, or minimal loss of life," he said.

Panel chairman Steven Dorrington (Conservative) said: "In the main all services worked well together. They evacuated 2,500 people to five different centres. I should also say how well the public responded. Once it's real, people do go the extra mile."

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Dr Marie Strong, joint co-ordinator of the Wells Flood Action Plan, asked an emergency question on behalf of volunteer flood wardens at Walcott, near Stalham, where no flood warning messages were issued to villagers last Thursday.

The wardens took the decision to evacuate the village at about 3.30am on Friday but many residents refused to leave their homes since the sirens had not been sounded. Huge waves later sent floodwater over the sea wall into the village.

Dr Strong asked whether the wardens' request had been referred by police "silver command" to the strategic "gold command", and why the judgment of "experienced local wardens calling from the flood scene" had been disregarded.

Mr Elliott replied: "I was at every meeting of the multi-agency gold command and, to my knowledge, there was no request from silver command to gold command and we did not expect there to be.

"It's a decision we would expect to be taken locally by police silver command. The question can only be addressed to Norfolk Constabulary."

Chris Eldridge, opera-tional planning manager for Norfolk police, said on Monday that the sirens were not sounded in Walcott because police did not want the whole of Walcott to evacuate.

The future of the county's 57 flood sirens is currently being reviewed by a council working group. The authority had originally planned to scrap them in order to save £35,000 a year.

Peter Moore (Liberal Democrat) said: "I'm concerned people didn't leave their houses because they did not hear the sirens. If you have agreed that you will retain these sirens until a decision is made properly, then you have got to be as good as your word."

Bertie Collins (Conservative) said: "I admire the work our people did but there were one or two things that people forgot." He said police in Yarmouth had been unable to tell people where to fill sandbags, adding: "The sirens never sounded and I wonder who informed anybody about the sirens not sounding."

David Callaby (Liberal Democrat) said: "It's pointless us going through the process of looking at the flood sirens if they aren't going to be used by the relevant bodies."

But Trevor Wainwright (Labour) said: "All of a sudden you are getting into conspiracy theories that the sirens were not sounded because they are going to be got rid of. Let's let the scrutiny committee do its job."

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