Boston floods: A year on from the tidal surge

Water flowing into the streets of Boston Image copyright Thomas Ashton
Image caption Flood water inundated the town after the River Haven burst its banks on the night of 5 December

A year after devastating floods swept through Boston leaving hundreds of people homeless, how well has the town recovered?

It was the worst flooding the Lincolnshire community had seen in 60 years.

On 5 December, a tidal surge burst the banks of the River Haven and sent water rushing through more than 50 streets in the town.

Nearly 600 properties were flooded. Hundreds of people were evacuated from their homes and some are still living in temporary accommodation.

Many businesses bounced back quickly but others are still feeling the effects.

'Worst day of my life'

Image caption Hugh Drake has lost 25 acres to the sea and he cannot grow crops on a large section of his land

The tidal surge breached the sea defences on farmer Hugh Drake's land, leaving 500 acres under a metre of water.

Unlike much of Boston itself, the landscape at Friskney - just outside the town - remains waterlogged, and it is here the severity of the flooding 12 months ago can still be seen.

"I can only say that it was the worst day of my life. I don't think I've ever known such a feeling of shock and apprehension and fear," says Mr Drake.

"Everything that I have tried to do over the years was just gone. It was a very depressing moment."

The farmer was forced to build a new sea bank behind the original one, which was damaged by the sheer volume of water. And he has permanently lost a large section of land to the sea.

Image copyright Hugh Drake
Image caption About 500 acres of the the farmer's fields were submerged during the flood

He is also unable to grow crops in the flooded area for up to two years because of the high levels of salt.

"I shudder to think what the actual cost is in terms of lost production," he says.

"But we recover from that and press on and do what we can to return the land to its former productivity. I've lost 25 acres of land. The soil to build the new bank has come from that 25 acres.

"That piece of land will be allowed to become tidal. It will silt up and re-establish as a green marsh."

'Customers thought we were shut'

Image copyright Jo Christmas
Image caption This picture on the left shows the flooding outside the Bizzarro restaurant on 5 December 2013. On the right is the street as it looks now

In the town itself, businesses reacted quickly.

The themed night at Bizzarro Italian restaurant on Thursday 5 December was, rather ironically, a Taste of Venice.

"I'm ringing my customers saying don't come in, we're flooded. 'Oh very funny', they said. Everyone thought it was a joke," says Jo Christmas, co-owner of the restaurant in Wormgate in the town centre.

Having been warned 12 hours earlier of the tidal surge, the restaurant was prepared - everything that could be moved upstairs was moved.

"Sure enough a lot of water hit the street. We're very fortunate that as an Italian restaurant it looks right for us to have tiles all the way through.

"It was in and out of the street quite quickly but as soon as it left, the doors were open and we swept it out."

The restaurant was open the next day, but customers were thin on the ground in a month that should have been very busy.

Frequent media reports of Boston's floods led many to assume shops were shut, Ms Christmas says.

"It wasn't really the water that hurt the trade in December it was that everyone thought we were still shut and that was really hard to combat.

"We tried getting the word out there, ringing our existing bookings but unfortunately many had already booked other restaurants thinking, 'There's no way they'll be open'."

"We saw that flood day-in, day-out for days [on the news] and we were actually quite dry by that point."

Image copyright Boston Standard
Image caption The Boston Standard newspaper office was flooded out but is back up and running now

Bizzarro was one of dozens of businesses hit. The Boston Standard newspaper was badly affected, but editor Stephen Stray says they are back up and running normally now.

Dewhursts Trophies in Nelson Street was another. Employee Chris Bonner says that with help from neighbouring air cadets and other shop workers, they were back open the next day.

But it was months before conditions were dry enough for a new carpet to be laid and dehumidifiers to finally disappear.

Image copyright Dewhursts
Image caption Dewhursts' trophy shop in Boston was finally able to put a new carpet in three months after the flood

Church 'challenge'

Image copyright Peter Hainsworth
Image caption Boston's iconic Stump church suffered about £1m of damage

Work is far from over at Boston's parish church, known as the Stump, which was inundated by more than a foot of water.

Roughly £1m of damage was caused to St Botolph's, with extensive repairs needed to the heating system, electrics and pews, as well as its cafe and shop.

The heating is still being fixed, according to Michael Bartlett from the church, with pipes soon to be replaced under the church floor.

A team is working 12 hours a day on the repairs, but he says it was no easy task.

Image copyright Anne Melton
Image caption St Botolph's is the largest parish church in the country

The results of an environmental survey should soon tell them how much damage the salt water has caused to the ancient stone work.

And if that was not enough, the church had to cope with a burglary in April.

But there have been some positives.

"The whole flood has been a real challenge for the team here, but it has led to us working closer with some of our local businesses and the community," Mr Bartlett says.

The church is hosting a Christmas fair, festive concerts and carol services throughout December.

On Friday, an event is being held to celebrate the resilience of traders in the town centre who carried on despite the flood.

'We got poorly'

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Rescuers used boats to get Boston evacuees to safety

Hundreds of people were evacuated before the flood water inundated their homes but many had to be rescued.

Some, like Mike and Pat Leighton, decided to stay at home.

The ground floor of their Tower Street house was 18 inches (46cm) underwater on the Thursday night.

They moved what belongings they could grab upstairs but Mrs Leighton says that for five months afterwards they were "upside down".

"We didn't have a Christmas last year.

"About a foot to 18 inches all the way round the house - carpet, furniture, we lost everything."

The couple are almost back to normal now but they are still feeling the effects. Mrs Leighton is being treated for an infection in her nose, which her doctor told her is a result of the dirty floodwater.

"It was obviously a germ in the water, in the muck, that got into my system because I was very poorly afterwards," she says.

"We both got poorly because of whatever the water brought into the house."

The couple have had new carpets and are now finally rid of the dehumidifiers which were in constant use to rid the house of damp.

"I wished I had took a little bit more notice of them telling us there was a flood warning, but like a lot of others we thought it's not going to happen," says her husband.

"I don't think anybody thought it was going to come to that extent."

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