London Flooding – Is It Possible?
It has been a week since Hurricane Sandy, now popularly known as the Frankenstorm, have made landfall and left its permanent mark in the East Coast of the United States. Causing widespread flooding and power blackouts that resulted in the closure of public transportation and government offices in New York, Sandy could be ranked 4th after Hurricane Katrina, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and Hurricane Andrew in terms of causing massive economic losses. The disaster modeling company Eqecat has pegged such economic losses at up to $50 billion.
This effect on the city that never sleeps brought about by the combination of a very powerful storm and tidal surge, have made London residents wonder if they can face the same risks.
In fact, the 2007 disaster film Flood has already explored such a scenario. Based on a book by Richard Doyle, the film graphically illustrates what would happen if the Thames Barrier breaks and causes massive flooding water totter toys. The idea isn’t that far-fetched as the author explains how an article on global warming gave him the idea:
“It was one of those terrifying pieces about more extreme weather, rising sea levels and frequent violent storms. Suddenly I remembered the Thames Barrier. I wondered how it would cope. “I started to look into some of the details. Barrier height, tidal reports and so forth. The more I looked, the more concerned I became.” (BBC)
London’s Flood History
Those who dismiss the film’s premise as too far-fetched just have to learn about London’s flood history. One of the most devastating floods happened in January of 1928. Heavy snowfall during the Christmas of 1927 in Central England, the source of the Thames, followed by sudden thaw and incessant raining caused the flood. This was said to be the highest ever recorded water level in London. The flood water caused damage to the Houses of Parliament, interrupted transportation systems, and rendered hundreds of people homeless.
Great London Floods
More recently, residents still vividly remember the great floods of 1947 and 1953, the former happened while people were still rebuilding their lives after WWII, while the latter basically propelled the government into action and improve flood warning systems. It is said that the flood of 1953, which was caused by a storm surge happening at the same time during the high tide, led to the construction of the Thames Barrier.
One of the largest flood barriers built in the world, the Thames Barrier has been providing ample protection against London flooding for now and will be expected to last until 2030 or even longer. The Thames Barrier is just one part of the many systems that the government has put in place for flood defense.
“Londoners can be reassured that their city’s flood defenses are in good shape, offer a high level of protection and will benefit from an investment of some £300m over the next 15 years,” says David Wardle of the Environment Agency. (BBC)
However, history does have a way of repeating and even topping itself. When the Thames Barrier was built, the current state of global warming was not a reality, and the effects of which were therefore not incorporated into its design. Thus, there is a possibility that the barrier could be breached.
A London Flood Puts 7.8 Million People At Risk
London was built and grew alongside the River Thames. At present there are around 7.8 million people that work, live, or visit an area that is actually a floodplain. The risks and impact of London flooding if, or when, the Barrier is breached should be a major concern of all that have a stake in this area – government, businesses, and individuals alike. In staff time alone, the government would suffer a loss of £10m daily. The London economy will most definitely suffer as London is said to generate £250 billion from businesses based here yearly. Infrastructure will not escape unscathed if the Thames Barrier would be breached, and the most at risk here is the London Underground since a major part of its network is within the floodplain. Just one day of disruption would cost £0.75m.
A lot of notable landmarks will be affected if a massive flood would occur. At the Docklands area in East London flood waters will likely affect Canary Wharf, Olympic Park, and Tower Bridge.
Central London will not be spared, as well as the landmarks and places of interest located here such as the Buckingham Palace, Covent Garden, the London Bridge, the West End, and the Houses of Parliament.
Residents of districts in low lying areas such as the borough of Chelsea in West London will suffer through the floods and may have to bear with loss of lives. The death toll during the flood of 1953 claimed more than 300 lives. With stronger storms due to rapid climate change and a much higher population in London at present, the death toll will definitely be greater if the Thames Barrier will be breached.
Needed London Flood Prevention
The government has acknowledged the need for improving flood prevention and response with initiatives such as the Drain London Project among others, but responsibility to minimize or prevent loss of property and lives should begin at the individual level. London residents can make use of the Flood Warning resource of the Environment Agency to prepare their homes and make evacuation routes. Residents can also use the Emergency Plan checklist as a starting point for their flood preparations. In case leaving their homes is not feasible, residents should also be prepared and make provisions for heat, food, and first aid that would last for at least three days.