Guardian News and Media/London
Flood defences have been breached along the banks of the River Severn, forcing householders and businesspeople to flee their properties as water rose toward record levels.
The water overwhelmed the flood barriers at Ironbridge, in Shropshire, leading to an emergency evacuation and promoting concern that the world heritage site would suffer serious damage.
A little further down the river, at Bridgnorth, there was flooding in some areas that had not been inundated for a century.
Water also breached the temporary flood barriers in the Worcestershire town of Bewdley, causing homes there to be evacuated.
Ironbridge bore the brunt yesterday. As 400 tonnes of water per second flowed through, the barriers were pushed back, allowing water to seep through and putting properties in the Wharfage area at risk.
Chief superintendent Tom Harding, of West Mercia police, said: “We’ve got water that has started to come underneath the flood barriers and in areas it appears that it is buckling.” Police said virtually everyone had agreed to leave.
Shaun Davies, the Labour leader of Telford and Wrekin council, urged people to stay away from Ironbridge.
He said: “The barriers are buckling, overwhelmed by the pure volume of water in the River Severn and the prolonged pressure they have been under.” Davies also expressed concern that senior government ministers had not visited the area.
As well as the personal trauma the flooding was causing, the chair of the world heritage site steering group, Marion Blockley, expressed concern about what it could be doing to the historic spot.
“The world heritage site is not just the iron bridge. It is the former workers’ cottages, the warehouses, the industrial buildings, the other nearby villages,” she said. “The worry is that floods like this are putting the site at risk.”
Even businesses that have not been flooded are struggling. Richard Eley, whose family runs a pie shop and a cafe in Ironbridge, said the flooding was devastating. “This is a key time of year for us and the place is empty,” he said.
Chris Warren did not bother opening the Copper Fox gift shop. “There’s nobody around – it’s not worth opening up,” he said.
The problem for Ironbridge is that the water is squeezed into a narrow gorge. Firefighters, an ambulance control unit and mountain rescue teams stood by as the evacuation took place.
Shropshire council was trying to rehouse the evacuated people and a local hotel was among places offering free rooms to those who had been displaced.
At Bridgnorth, where there are no permanent defences, sandbags were being placed along the riverbank to try to stem the flow.
Nick Bevon, the landlord of the Bassa Villa pub and restaurant, said that his cellar had flooded for the first time in a century. “We know we’ll never get flood defences,” he said. “There aren’t enough properties to protect here. We just have to carry on.”
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