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Everything about the Boscastle flooding

 Boscastle suffered extensive damage on Monday 16 August 2004 after a flash flood caused by an extraordinary amount of rain that fell over the course of 5 hours that afternoon. The floods were the worst in local memory, and a study commissioned by the Environment Agency from HR Wallingford concluded that it was the worst known flood in the village, among the most extreme ever experienced in Britain, and the chance of such heavy rainfall in any given year was around 1 in 400.

Usually resulting from torrential rain, flash floods arise when the ground becomes saturated with water so quickly that it cannot be absorbed - leading to 'run off' or water running over the soil rather than sinking into it. This run-off can cause localised but severe flooding. Whilst torrential rain is key to the onset of flash flooding, the drainage and topography of the surrounding area determines the scale and impact of the event. In places such as Boscastle or Lynmouth, steep-sided valleys accentuated flooding by acting as huge funnels for the run-off and channelled it very quickly down to the sea.

 See image below for a pictorial representation of how flash flooding occurs:

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The torrential rain led to a 2 m (7 ft) rise in river levels in one hour. A 3 m (10 ft) wave — believed to have been triggered by water pooling behind debris caught under a bridge, and then being suddenly released as the bridge collapsed — surged down the main road, travelling at an estimated 40 miles per hour (65 km/h). It is estimated that 2 million tonnes (440 million gallons) of water flowed through Boscastle that day. Around 50 cars and 6 buildings were washed into the sea, along with uprooted trees and other debris. In an operation lasting from mid-afternoon until 2:30 AM, a fleet of seven helicopters rescued about 150 people clinging to trees and the roofs of buildings and cars. Amazingly, no major injuries or loss of life were reported.

In addition to six buildings being washed away, many other buildings suffered serious flood damage or were reported unsafe. Most of the tourist attractions and shops are in the oldest parts of the town, in the areas most affected by the flood at the bottom of the river valleys. The visitor centre was half demolished, and the museum of witchcraft was also severely damaged. The ground floors of many buildings were covered with many inches of mud washed in by the flood waters. Following the rescues on 16 August 2004, emergency services cleared debris that had built up beneath and over the bridge at the centre of the village, and waters receded. Several buildings were demolished as a result of damage caused by the floods.

Cars were swept out to sea, bridges were washed away and people clung to rooftops and trees for safety as torrential rain hit the area.

Emergency workers mounted a huge operation to rescue residents and holidaymakers along a 32-km (20-mile) stretch of the north Cornwall coast around Boscastle.

Seven helicopters from the Coastguard, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force hovered overhead, winching people trapped by the churning brown waters to safety.

 

As the tide and the flood waters receded on Tuesday morning, police divers searched the harbour as a police "body recovery" team stood by.

Cars, boulders and uprooted trees were strewn through the streets. Some shops had been torn in half by the floodwaters, which struck at 14:45 GMT.

At the flood's peak some roads were submerged under 2.75 metres (9 feet) of water, and rescuers described the village as "devastated".

 

The Museum of Witchcraft has been severely affected by the floods.

 The Museum of Witchcraft, houses the world’s largest collection of witchcraft related artefacts and regalia. The museum has been located in Boscastle for over forty years and is amongst Cornwall’s most popular museums.

Almost 50% of the artefacts in the storeroom of The Museum of Witches were lost,  and due to the fact access was almost impossible for nearly three weeks the silt had time to destroy quite a lot of the pieces.

 

More than 100 people were airlifted by the rescue services from rooftops, trees and on cars where they had clambered to safety.

 

About 90% of Boscastle’s economy is dependent on tourism. After the flood, more than 20 accommodation providers were forced to shut, many of them individually owned bed and breakfasts. As about two thirds of the business is done during the six week school holiday, the effects were even more devastating with half the three weeks remaining.

 

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Within an hour of arriving there as a tourist, I watched 80 cars being picked up like dinky toys and doing their convoluted dance out to sea. Within three hours half a bridge was washed away, many buildings were destroyed, people's houses and possessions floated away, roads were lifted up and crashed down onto cars like the jaws of a monster masticating its prey.

A comment from a foreign tourist

 

The timing of disasters such as that in Boscastle is important. As this happened during the day people were awake and could be rescued by the emergency services. If it had happened during the night most people would have been asleep and there would have been a higher likelyhood of injuries or even deaths.

 

One year later, much of the damage has been repaired. A temporary visitors centre has opened in a Portacabin, and most of the businesses have reopened. The number of day visitors is running near to usual levels, although fewer people are staying overnight.

Copyright 2006 Purveen Gill