West Sussex sea defences may have trapped flood water

Residential road in West Sussex
Image caption Roads, gardens and homes across West Sussex were under water on Tuesday

The Environment Agency is investigating whether or not sea defences in West Sussex trapped flood water, making flooding there worse.

Flood water is being pumped away from parts of West Sussex where many people were forced to flee their homes.

Residents living in Bracklesham Bay said the water level only dropped when an emergency channel was dug.

However, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said the defences were not to blame.

The Environment Agency said no further properties had flooded overnight but it was keeping a watch on river levels.

It added that teams had been working round the clock with other emergency responders, checking flood defences and clearing blockages.

Image caption An emergency channel was dug through sea defences to help release trapped water

Gordon Wilson, from the Environment Agency, said: "We're investigating to try to understand what has led to such severe flooding here.

"And it is possible that given the diameters of pipes we put in as an interim measure, they were not sufficient to cope with such a huge amount of rain in such a short space of time."

Bracklesham resident Christopher Purchase said the water level remained static until the digger cut through the sea defences.

"It's pouring out of there like a plug out of the bath," he said.

However, Ms Spelman, who was visiting the area, said the Environment Agency did not believe the sea defences caused the floods, but the "sheer volume" of rainfall.

She added: "I've been very impressed by the emergency services response and all the other partners involved... but above all the community, and the way everyone pulled together to deal with an extreme weather event of this kind."

Roads impassable

Rising flood waters affected about 250 homes in the village of Elmer and caravans on two sites in Bracklesham.

Two flood warnings remain in place for the River Arun watercourse at the Aldingbourne Rife in Bersted and Felpham.

Image caption Occupants of caravans at two holiday parks in Bracklesham had to be rescued by life rafts

West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service said it had dealt with about 1,000 calls in 24 hours, evacuating hundreds of homes and pumping water from them.

Sean Ruth, deputy county fire officer for West Sussex, said it had been "an incredibly busy time" and it was necessary to seek help from neighbouring fire services in East Sussex and Hampshire.

Many roads had been impassable due to flooding. Closures remain in force on the A29 Lidsey Road at Woodgate and several minor roads to the west of the county.

There are also restrictions on the A259 at Littlehampton and A281 London Road at Henfield.

Nine schools in Bognor Regis and Chichester were either closed or partly closed because of the conditions, along with Felpham Community College.

Laburnum Grove Junior School in Bognor Regis remained shut on Wednesday due to serious flooding, and is not expected to reopen until next Tuesday.

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