London street in the rain

Storms batter south of England, flooding homes, roads and hospitals

Image credit: Anjana Menon | Unsplash

Homes, roads and Tube stations were flooded and two London hospitals asked patients to stay away after thunderstorms battered the south of England yesterday (Sunday July 25), while other countries continued to count the costs of their own severe flooding.

Residents in north-east London used buckets, brooms and wooden boards to create makeshift flood defences for their homes, while water gushing from an Underground station was caught on video. The wettest part in the whole of the UK on Sunday was St James’s Park in London, where 41.6mm of rain fell.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan tweeted: “Local emergency services, @LondonFire, and @MetPoliceUK are responding to significant flooding across London. If you’re travelling, check your route as multiple @TfL bus, tube and rail services are affected. Avoid walking or driving through flood water. In an emergency, call 999.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, MP for the London constituency of Holborn and St Pancras, said: “Thoughts with all those affected by today’s flooding. Thanks to all the emergency services and local authorities working to support local people.”

Footage shared on social media shows a Sainsbury’s in Whitechapel, east London, flooded at just after 3pm on Sunday, while a man in Battersea calling himself DJ Decimal shared photos on Twitter of the moment a family had to abandon their car to floodwater in the area. The DJ said he called emergency services to the scene on Silverthorne Road where a water drain was overflowing: “A woman, her sister and two children attempted to drive through. They didn’t make it and had to carry their kids to safety as the car failed them,” Decimal later told PA.

Buses were also left stranded on waterlogged roads in Battersea as a result of the severe flooding.

Local residents living in Woodford, East London, had to block floodwater from entering their homes using improvised flood defences, with those unlucky enough not to have acted quickly finding their homes flooded with water egress in downstairs rooms.

Many people have said it was the worst flooding they'd ever seen in the capital. Passing through London, Jamie Curtis told PA that he had to drive through water that was “12 to 18 inches deep” while crossing Clapham Common on his way home to Kingston, Hampshire. “(I’ve) not seen that level of flooding in London before,” Curtis said, describing how the rain had been “extremely heavy for about 20 to 25 minutes”.

Whipps Cross and Newham Hospitals in east London both urged patients to find alternative treatment centres after they were affected by the downpours. Whipps Cross Hospital said it was “experiencing operational issues” and asked patients to use an alternative A&E “if possible”.

Newham Hospital had a similar appeal, writing on its Twitter account: “Our Emergency Department has flooded in some areas. We’re still here if you need us but to help us while we fix things please attend a neighbouring hospital if possible. Thank you!”

The basement at Whipps Cross Hospital in east London was flooded, causing damage to the electrical system and a loss of power. A major incident was called across Barts Health NHS Trust, with staff moving around 100 inpatients from affected wards, including to other hospitals within the Barts Health group. Ambulances are still being diverted to other hospital emergency departments today to relieve the pressure on Whipps Cross. The emergency department at the hospital remains open for walk-ins but patients requiring urgent treatment are asked to attend alternative hospitals where possible. Newham Hospital is now fully operational after also being affected by flooding.

A spokeswoman for Barts Health NHS Trust said: “We are continuing to experience operational issues at Whipps Cross Hospital due to the heavy rainfall yesterday. We cancelled all planned surgery and outpatient appointments for today and are diverting ambulances while we work hard to clean up affected areas of the hospital.”

The Standon Calling live music festival in Hertfordshire was also cancelled due to the floods. In a statement, the festival said: “Unfortunately due to flooding we will no longer be able to proceed with the festival. If you can safely leave the site this evening please do so as soon as possible. We are working on getting everyone off site as safely and quickly as possible.”

Today, the Environment Agency has six flood warnings in place across the country’s southeast, with a further 19 alerts for potential flooding active throughout England and Wales. The Met Office had a yellow warning in place for storms spanning the UK from Norwich to Plymouth until midnight on Sunday.

The heavy rain brought an end to the UK's mini-heatwave, but temperatures are predicted to rise again in most places from today as the storms clear.

A Met Office spokesperson said an official study would have to be completed before any connections to the weekend’s weather could be linked to climate change, but added that the science indicates that warmer air can hold more water, so rainfall is increasing on average across the world.

The Met Office representative said: “In some places, rainfall is becoming more intense as well. Heavy rainfall is also more likely. Since 1998, the UK has seen seven of the 10 wettest years on record. The winter storms in 2015 were at least 40 per cent more likely because of climate change.”

Greenpeace UK’s policy director, Doug Parr, said there seems to be “a reluctance from governments to act decisively on climate change until the flood waters are lapping at your toes”.

Parr added: “Extreme weather of the kind being experienced across the world this summer will only increase in the UK, in both frequency and intensity, unless action is taken to curb emissions. With the UK hosting this autumn’s crucial climate talks, Boris Johnson must grab the bull by the horns and set an example for others to follow.”

Johnson belatedly acknowledged the local weather conditions, tweeting this afternoon: "My thoughts are with everyone affected by the flooding in London and the South East. A huge thank you to the emergency services and volunteers helping families and businesses through this difficult time.”

A Number 10 spokesperson said: “The Environment Agency are looking at the situation closely and continue to work with local authorities to ensure that any support they need is provided.” They added that it was a matter for scientists whether to attribute individual events to global warming, but that “the Prime Minister completely agrees that climate change is going to lead to more extreme weather events, which is why we are doing what we’re doing to try and reduce greenhouse gases”.

Extreme weather events resulting from climate change continue to wreak havoc and claim hundreds of lives across the world. The parts of Belgium and Germany already devastated by raging floodwater last week experienced fresh floods following unseasonably heavy rain and thunderstorms.  

The provinces of Namur and Walloon Brabant south-east of the capital city Brussels were particularly badly hit over the weekend, with cars washed away by the rising waters and piliing up in the streets. Belgium’s crisis centre issued a warning to the population as the bad weather is expected to last for several days.

Deputy mayor Robert Closset said firefighters were deployed to tackle the latest floods, which he described as being worse than those of last week. “I’ve been living here all my life and I’ve never seen this before,” Closset told the Associated Press, adding that no new victims had been reported.

The confirmed death toll from last week’s floods in Belgium and neighbouring countries passed 210 this week and the economic cost is expected to run into the billions.

Meanwhile in Germany, authorities are still working to determine the overall cost of last week's floods that did their worst damage in western Germany and eastern Belgium. Germany’s national railway operator, Deutsche Bahn, has estimated that the flooding has caused damage totalling approximately €1.3bn euros (£1.1bn) to its network. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said this week that the damage is “immense” and will take a long time to repair.

Deutsche Bahn said that more than 50 bridges, 180 level crossings, nearly 40 signal boxes, over 1,000 electric and signal masts, as well as energy and lighting systems and station elevators, were damaged.

“Never before has our infrastucture been destroyed to this extent in one go,” said Volker Hentschel, a board member at the company’s DB Netz infrastructure division.

On the other side of the world, flooding continues to ravage Chinese towns and cities, with some neighbourhoods still waiting for water up to 6ft (2m) deep to drain away. While the rains have subsided, conditions are still very difficult with an estimated 3,800 houses collapsed across the Henan province and 920,000 people evacuated from their homes.

Food and drinking waters supplies have been brought in by trucks and soldiers have been laying sandbags to fill gaps in river dykes that had left neighbourhoods under water. Direct economic losses throughout the Henan province have been estimated at 13.9bn yuan (£1.6bn), according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

Annual monsoon rains in India and the Philippines have also forced thousands of residents to flee their flooded villages, with landslides claiming the lives of 100 people in India.

Even the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Games are being affected by extreme weather, with Japanese locals and international sports delegations alike withering under a scorching summer heatwave. Furthermore, it was announced today that Tropical Storm Nepartak could make landfall near Tokyo, bringing with it heavy rain, strong winds and high waves. Some Games events, including archery and rowing, have already been moved from their scheduled Tuesday slots to avoid potential weather disruption.

Flooding is expected to become a regular phenomenon as a result of climate change, with extreme surge events in the UK alone projected to increase by 15-35 per cent by 2080, according to a study from Heriot-Watt University. The annual cost of flood damage to the UK already totals over £1bn.

Doubtless with this warning - and annual repair bill - in mind, in March this year the Department for Environment, Food, and rural Affairs (Defra) announced £150m funding for the Flood and Coastal Resilience Innovation Programme, which aims to develop and test improved approaches to preventing and protecting against flooding.

Given the often historic nature of many of the UK's bridges and road infrastructure, which cross waterways susceptible to flooding, bigger and more frequent flood events pose a growing problem to the country's public infrastructure.

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