English Town Deals With Aftermath of Flood

By Benjamin Long

On a brisk Friday morning in December, the sleepy town of Boston, on the east coast of England, slowly woke up to the aftermath of a historic night.

On Dec. 5, 2013, the River Haven overran its banks, causing a deluge in the quaint market town in Lincolnshire. The same river from which some of the Pilgrims set sail for Leiden, Holland, to eventually board the Mayflower in 1620 and head for Plymouth, Mass., sent water rushing through Boston’s town center, flooding more than 50 streets, and leaving hundreds without power.

As coastal communities around the New York metropolitan area and along the East Coast continue to struggle with the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, the story of Boston is a reminder that flooding and storm damage are a problem in many areas of the world.

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Many shops and old cobble-stoned streets in Boston, an English market town, were flooded in 2013 when the River Haven rose.

In Boston, residents and local businesses were hit hard. Many small start-ups took months to finally get back on their feet, with some forced to relocate due to damage caused by the flood. Due to the town’s Business & Enterprise strategy launched in early 2014, the town has focused on bringing new businesses to Boston in the hope it can boost the local economy. 

Just before the flood, Stella Toolan had moved her hair salon to the riverside street of Wormgate, only to rue the decision afterward. Her salon, Stella’s, had taken pride of place on the street corner overlooked by “The Stump,” the famous church that dominates the scenery in Boston.

On that brisk Friday morning, Toolan found herself sweeping dirty river water from her salon onto the 11th century cobblestones of Wormgate, which had been decimated by the disaster.

“It’s just my luck. I start getting customers through the door and now it’s all gone down the drain,” Toolan said. “It takes a lot to start up your own business. It takes a lot of time and other things that you don’t see in the building, physically, but are always with you in your mind every day you go to work. Now I’ve got to go through that again and start from square one.”

Boston is a town and small port in the county of Lincolnshire, on the east coast of England.
Boston,  an ancient market  town, sits on the River Haven on England’s  east coast.

Jo Christmas, co-owner of the Italian restaurant Bizarro next door to Stella’s, had more luck. Her restaurant was running, rather aptly, a Venice-themed evening on the night the flood hit, but she quickly informed her customers not to come when the flood warning was put out.

“Everyone thought it was a joke, that we were keeping on with the theme!” said Christmas. Bizarro was able to open its doors a few days after the flood. “We’re fortunate because, as an Italian restaurant, we can get away with having tiled floors,” she said. “Although it was hard attracting customers back because they couldn’t believe we were open so soon after the flood, we were just happy to be open again. Wormgate hasn’t been the same since, though.”

All along England’s East Coast in December 2013, record-breaking high tides were seen, and more than 10,000 homes were evacuated. However, in the rural areas of Lincolnshire and one of its bordering counties, Norfolk, the recovery rate has been much slower. Such are the areas’ isolation from the rest of the country, aid has been difficult to come by and, to make matters worse, a new prospective flood barrier may take five years to become fully operational.

Lincolnshire and Norfolk are reclaimed counties, meaning they used to be underwater and part of the North Sea before the water receded and the coastline was formed. As such, the counties are much more susceptible to flooding. Aid is not a major priority of the government because the two counties aren’t exactly popular or important to the country, as perceived by locals.

According to Mark Robinson, the Coastal Manager for the Environment Agency, the barrier would have prevented the river overflowing and the flood water reaching Boston had it been in place.

“The barrier would have prevented overtopping,” he said. “If we could build it overnight we would, but there are lots of orders and legislation that we have to go through to get this done.”

Over a year since the flood waters infiltrated Boston, residents still speak about its impact. And many locals wonder when the next flood will come. Many residents and business owners near the river that carves through the town are left with few options to look elsewhere, as retail space is at a premium.

Such is Boston’s wealth of historical buildings, planning restrictions are severe and trade and commerce coming into the area has further plummeted during what was an already bleak time for business in Boston.

Trevor Thompson, Chief Planning Officer at Boston Borough Council, acknowledged that he had seen a drop in the number of planning applications since the 2013 flood.

“I think people are put off now – Wormgate and nearby areas were always very marketable for people wanting to move here or start a business, but with the river running through the town, it’s lost its appeal,” said Thompson.

“The Environment Agency has changed their flood maps accordingly and have stressed that their worst-case scenarios are described as a 1 in 100 year event,” he said. “I just don’t think people believe that it’ll be another 99 years before another flood happens again, that’s the problem.”

Toolan agreed.

“I don’t think the town is ready,” she said. “I don’t think we’re in a better place now if the water was to rush through here, again. All we had were sandbags last time, and that’s all I’ve got now.”

Boston Borough Council has since set up a Rapid Response team and a local fundraising concert helped keep community spirit afloat with $7,400 going to those deemed to be in the direst of need.

With stronger measures needed in and around the susceptible riverbanks, the people of Boston seem to have grown forever weary of the Haven, fearful that it will once again engulf the town.