Flooded out

LAST week s downpour may have proved too much for the drains, but for the people of Royston and the surrounding areas it was a chance to show what they re made of. Like a scene from a Hollywood disaster movie, lightning and hailstones came crashing down,

LAST week's downpour may have proved too much for the drains, but for the people of Royston and the surrounding areas it was a chance to show what they're made of.

Like a scene from a Hollywood disaster movie, lightning and hailstones came crashing down, as flash floods swept across the town - forcing residents from their homes and bringing businesses and restaurants to a standstill.

But instead of reaching for the life raft, Crow Country rolled up its sleeves, grabbed a mop and bucket and refused to be beaten.

One place flooded was Pizza Palazzo, in Kneesworth Street, Royston. The restaurant's Mathew Norris said: "It was business as usual for the restaurant. It was a panic, but we got through it in the best way that we could. We had a packed house, but instead of complaining, guests simply got on with things.

"At one point they even took their shoes off and pulled up their trouser legs. Some of our waitresses even put flip flops on. All in all it was quite good fun."

The quick-thinking Mr Norris even put together home-made sandbags, comprising bin bags and flour from the kitchen.

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Mr Norris said: "We didn't have too much damage, although pizzas may be off the menu - we've used all the flour."

Restaurant manager Petter Ous said: "Despite the problems it was a fun evening and I have to say everyone was a really good sport.

"At first it didn't look too bad, but all of a sudden things were extreme and the water was coming in fast. We were at the restaurant until 4am sorting everything out. Everyone was mucking in and trying to clear the water out. We certainly won't forget that night in a hurry."

However, just along the high street, the Thai Rack restaurant wasn't so lucky, as staff had to close early.

Manager Guy Saiyasuwan said: "The water was pouring into the side restaurant and the floor is completely ruined. Luckily this part of the building isn't used that much. If it had come through into the main part it would have been a lot worse."

A number of schools in Royston also felt the brunt of Wednesday's weather.

Roysia Middle School headteacher Peter Fielden said: "Potentially there has been a lot of damage. The gym floor has been affected quite badly and it looks like it could be a big job.

"My son and I came out late Wednesday night to help the caretaker limit the damage. We immediately switched the power off and moved everything off from the floors. It looks quite bad at the moment - I just hope everything is sorted out by September."

Elaine Stamford, who is on the administration staff at the school, said: "This will be a massive clear up, people were working all through the night and coming in on their day off to help clear the water and assess the damage. It's at this sort of time when people really come together."

Roman Way Headteacher, Suzane Summerhayes said: "I can't believe what has happened. People have been working hard and doing their best to clean the school up.

"At this time of the year staff should be relaxing. But instead everyone has been up to their ankles in water with a mop and bucket in their hands."

It made a busy week for loss adjusters, damage assessors and disaster teams who made their way through the town visiting various premises and investigating the scale of the damage.

Tereasa Chaffey, manager of Market One, in Royston, said: "I've lived in Royston for 30 years and I've never seen anything like it. We had to shut the store early and because of the amount of water that came in a lot of stock has been ruined."

Kerie Lovelock, manager of the Marie Curie womenswear charity store, said: "The whole shop was flooded and we've lost an awful lot of stuff. I'm so disheartened because this store has only been only open for two weeks.

"It looks like we will have to start again as the floor and carpets are totally ruined. But we will manage and things like this just make you stronger. We've had people walking past coming in and lending a hand, and we are grateful for their help."

One resident, who didn't want to be named said: "The drainage down in Market Hill is terrible. What happened was out of the ordinary but if the drains had been looked at the problem would have been eased.

"The pipes cannot take the strain of heavy rain, which causes the water to build up and the council need to do something before this happens again."

An opinion mirrored by Graham Godward of Moat Lane, Melbourn.

He said: "The highways authority need to do something about the drains. They are filled up with sludge and road wash and they have been for the past two years.

"Every time it rains heavily, the gullies build up and overflow. They have been warned before and because of their failure we have had to deal with a situation that was made worse. Everybody was out in the streets doing the best that they could to stop their homes from being damaged."

Claire McComb of the High street, Melbourn has also previously raised issues regarding flooding with the South Cambridgeshire District Council.

She said: "It's been very distressing, and I've been telling the council for months that something like this would happen. The road outside is higher than the pavement, so when it pours down water runs down into my house - this is the second time that I have been flooded.

"If you looked up and down the street you could see everyone doing their best to stop the flooding, I think I used every towel in the house?"

Residents were not the only ones kept busy, as more than 100 calls were made to the Fire service call centre in Stevenage. A crew of 55 were called out, including flexi-duty officers, who mobilised 11 pumps throughout the town.

Royston fire station manager Steve Flowers said: "I have never seen anything like that in my 27 years on the service.

"We were inundated with calls, and had to co-ordinate our response accordingly. We drew up a prioritisation list, with the elderly and people with medical problems at the top.

"It was impossible to get to every location and most people understood, and they dealt with the matter accordingly. People pulled together with a real war time spirit. The fire crew did a fantastic job, as did residents in what was an extremely difficult night. The community of Royston should be very proud of themselves."

In nearby Bassingbourn, residents were also praised by chairman of the parish council, Cllr Jack White.

He said: "What we saw was exceptional rainfall. The main high street was particularly flooded. It's difficult to know how to cope with that much rain and I do think there are a few problems that need to be looked at.

"Old street drains are not up to the job and when it's an abnormal downfall they soon get overwhelmed. In fact one resident measured five inches of rain.

"I had hailstones on my lawn that were half the size of golf balls. I'm told that they caused quite a bit of damage, especially to farmers crops. A few houses were flooded quite badly and a few shops had to be shut.

"What I do know is that residents in Bassingbourn are pretty good at rallying round and helping each other out."

Bassingbourn saw some of the heaviest rain in the region with 67.8mm of rain falling in 24 hours.

It wasn't just the small stores that were affected either, as over in Old North Road in Royston, Tesco had to close early.

A spokesman for Tesco said: "The store had to close early due to a leak in the roof. At the moment the store is going through refurbishment and because of the nature of the weather, water found its way through. So for health and safety reasons it was decided that we should close."

A leak was also responsible for the closure of Royston Leisure Centre in Woodcock Road. It is believed a leak disabled a fire alarm that meant 60 members had to be evacuated.

Every part of the town was more or less affected by flooding, as residents in Twigden Estate worked tirelessly to thwart the flooding. Along Baldock and Melbourn Street a number of premises found themselves reaching for the bucket, including The Royston Cave. Kings House in Princes Mews and the Royston Parish Church also incurred minor damage.

Rev Les Harman said: "The church roof remained intact but we did have a bit of damage in the vestry. We have had a de-humidifier drying it out ever since.

"It's certainly the worst weather that I have seen. It looks as if Royston was hit quite badly."

A spokesman for North Herts District Council said: "As a result of the flash floods up to 40 homes in Royston were affected. Some 60 trained emergency volunteers were sent out."

The district council had earmarked Royston Town Hall as an emergency centre, but the premises was flooded, too, and could not be used.

"As it turned out residents preferred to stay in their homes," said the spokesman.

Cllr F John Smith, leader of the district council and councillor for the Royston Meridian ward, said: "I would like to thank the emergency services, particularly the fire service, Herts County Council's highways department, and the volunteer emergency team from the district council.

"Everyone did an excellent job and I was glad that the council's emergency planning procedure worked so well."

Richard Barker, of the Royston Iceni Weather Station, said: "The intensity of the rainfall was phenomenal. Three inches fell in just two hours. The rainfall radar shows that the storm originated very close to Royston rather than drifting in from somewhere else.

"It was certainly the most severe rainfall event that I have ever witnessed in Royston in more than 30 years of weather recording. This kind of storm was a total surprise and its severity may mean it has a return period of 50 or even 100 years.

"This was the highest daily rainfall in July since at least 1972. Incidentally, July is almost certain to have been the hottest month of any since a similar date in Royston."

Mayor of Royston, Cllr Lynn Berry said: "Royston has seen some very unusual weather lately, and we went from one extreme to another.

"From what I've heard and seen, it seems like most of the community was mucking in and helping each other out. I must say that the camaraderie of the town was absolutely brilliant.