York Inundated: The December 2015 Floods

With water levels already high across the north of England, and in parts of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales – after Storm Desmond in the first week of December brought record rainfalls and flooded thousands of homes in Cumbria and Lancashire, with heavy rain persisting throughout the month – on 26 December, Boxing Day, more rain caused the Environment Agency to issue 7 severe flood warnings in Lancashire and 24 in Yorkshire.

Every river in Lancashire subsequently exceeded its record level. And as flooding reached York, Leeds, and Greater Manchester, hundreds of residents were evacuated from their homes. By the morning of 27 December, around 8,000 households in northern England were left without power, 5,500 in the town of Rochdale alone, where an electricity substation was flooded. The city centres of York, Leeds, and Manchester were all partially submerged.

The situation in York was so severe because the Foss Barrier – built in 1987 and meant to protect the north east of the city, by preventing the flow of the River Ouse back up the channel of the River Foss at the point where the two rivers converge – was raised owing to flooding and the fear of electrical damage. This made homes alongside the Foss, notably those on Huntington Road, especially susceptible to the rapidly rising water.

Several prominent streets in the centre were inundated, including Tower Street, Walmgate, Piccadilly, and The Stonebow, making the city almost inaccessible from the east. Attractions including the City Screen Picturehouse and Jorvik Viking Centre remain closed. Much of York found itself without working telephone lines or internet access between Sunday afternoon and late Monday, with the non-emergency police and NHS numbers – 101 and 111 respectively – also down.

The Ouse finally peaked on Monday at 5.2 metres above normal summer levels, just short of the all-time high of 5.4 metres recorded in the autumn of 2000. But the failure of the Foss Barrier meant more damage than York has experience since the floods of 1982. The army were asked to help with the rescue effort, and during Monday a Chinook helicopter was used to lower portable power generators onto the Foss Barrier’s roof, with power expected to be restored by Tuesday morning.

Almost inaccessible, but not quite, I took the following 25 photographs of the flooding down Fishergate, Walmgate, and Piccadilly, around Clifford’s Tower, Tower Street, and Skeldergate Bridge, and peering up and down the Ouse over the Millennium Bridge between Fulford and Bishopthorpe.

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