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Lack of sandbags made Newlyn flood damage worse: councillor

By The Cornishman  |  Posted: November 29, 2012

  • Floods at Newlyn, Cornwall

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FLOODING that hit more than a dozen Newlyn businesses and homes over the weekend might not have caused such devastation had people had access to sandbags, it has been claimed.

On Saturday night, following hours of torrential rain, the Newlyn Coombe river broke its banks, sending a muddy deluge into nearby properties.

By 10pm the area in front of the Fishermen's Mission was about 2ft deep in water.

"All I could think of was Boscastle," said one shop-owner. "It wasn't as bad as that, but it was like rapids through the streets, and towards the middle it got more intense.

"The river backed up and was going over Newlyn Meadery bridge, flooding the road where the crossroads join.

"It was coming down from there and down Paul Hill so that triangle was where it was worst."

Businesses affected included the Co-op, the Swordfish, whose cellar was flooded, the charity shop and Auntie May's café, and locals arrived on Sunday to help salvage what they could.

In the charity shop, boxes of clothes, books and magazines that were on the floor had to be thrown out, and Methodist minister Julyan Drew had six volunteers lending a hand.

"Some are my family; others just walked past and wanted to help," he said.

"There was nothing you could do about it; the water was just there and it was a case of if you could see something to save, you did. Anything that was on the floor is water- damaged and you don't know what was in the water, so it wouldn't help to dry it out.

"We'll have to chuck quite a bit of the stock. It's all been given to us and it's a shame."

Firefighters were also on the scene evacuating people from the flats above the Co-op.

The Jehu family, who live in Redruth and own Auntie May's, arrived on Sunday morning to a scene of devastation. Linda, husband Robert and three children worked together to clear up the mess.

Linda said: "It's quite devastating. Lilly said to me this morning, 'Mummy, I'll eat whatever you put in front of me now because we're going to be really poor'.

"The kids have been brilliant. They've come in and are helping.

"It's a family business."

With the chillers and freezers out of action, the café is likely to be closed for the foreseeable future, and is not the only business that will be feeling the effects of the flooding for months to come.

Roger Harding, Cornwall councillor for Newlyn and Mousehole, said some of the damage, running into thousands of pounds, could have been avoided had sandbags been available and that the council's phone lines had been tied up all night, making it impossible to call for them.


"If sandbags were available it would have helped quite a lot of premises that were flooded," he said. "In the days of Penwith District Council we'd have kept 600 in stock, and they used to deliver 150 to Newlyn.

"People could take them and put them where they were needed, whereas now you just couldn't raise the alarm to get the sandbags and there weren't the required tools there."

Mario Fonk, Cornwall councillor for Gulval and Heamoor, said he agreed with Mr Harding and was planning to raise the matter at the council's next meeting.

"People have been full of praise for the emergency services – they did a great job in clearing blockages and pumping water – but a lot of properties might not have been so badly flooded if they'd sandbags on hand.

"What's needed is strategically placed points where people can collect sandbags in emergencies."

St Ives MP Andrew George said he was surprised people in high-risk areas were not offered sandbags in advance.

"I'll urge the local authority to review its policy and consider offering a mobile sandbag loan service when the Environment Agency warning reaches a particular designated level," he said.

A spokeswoman for the council, which received more than 1,600 calls over the weekend, said: "The authority does not have a statutory duty to provide sandbags and will only supply them free of charge on a 'needs' basis in response to unforeseen flooding emergencies. We will not supply sandbags in advance based on forecasts.

"If requests for supply or delivery are received during an emergency situation, we will consider them sympathetically on a case-by-case basis according to apparent vulnerability. For out-of-hours events, the decision will be made by the appropriate duty officer."

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