Environment Agency tests Great Yarmouth’s flood defences
IT was a night the handful of residents watching Wednesday’s Environment Agency flood exercise in Great Yarmouth would have remembered well.
The flood test in Yarmouth and Gorleston – part of the EA’s national Exercise Watermark – involved checking that the scores of flood gates that had been tested to their limit in 2007 were working.
The operation started at 11am at the flood gate next to Gorleston lifeboat station in Riverside Road, which had been awash with water early on that fateful Friday as the River Yare came perilously close to spilling over the top of the defences.
With reassuring speed, EA staff closed the gate, upgraded shortly before Christmas, before moving on to their next stop.
Andy Sharpe-Brash, EA field team leader, said: “This exercise replicates what we would do in the case of a similar North Sea surge to the one we had in 2007.
All the gates would be closed at least three hours ahead of the predicted high tide.
“The majority are closed during the winter period, but we are opening and closing them all to check they are all working OK.”
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The exercise was also a good test for EA staff to see how they would cope with a real emergency, he added.
He said the combination of factors that could cause a flood-threatening surge like the ones in 1953 and 2007 – among them high tides, high winds and low pressure – could crop up at any time; but fortunately there was always plenty of warning.
“In 2007 we had a warning more than 24 hours in advance and normally we are aware of a potential hazard three to four days in advance,” he said.
But less comforting was Mr Sharpe-Brash’s assessment that “it is not a question of if we have another one in 100 year event, but when.”
He said Yarmouth was seen as an important town in the flood defence operation because of its high population and the number of homes potentially at risk.
However, he said the defences in Yarmouth and Gorleston had been consistently improved over the years and were well-placed to withstand a severe test.