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Flood plan to stop city swamping

Government officials thought of deliberately flooding Essex and Kent to try to stop central London from being swamped by a tidal surge, according to newly-released secret papers.

It was suggested as gates for the Thames Barrier were stranded by a dock strike in Teesside, triggering fears that London would be unprotected in a flood.

The idea was to breach flood defences downstream so that some of the water would flood in to low-lying land in Essex and Kent, the contingency planning documents dating from July 25 1979 to December 22 1983 from the National Archives state.

Such drastic action would have meant "major political difficulty" for the Government, it was stated.

The cost, the need for explosive charges to be laid in advance and the potential legal wrangles which could follow because the flood defences belonged to several water authorities were all problems.

Either way it "needs thorough investigation" and "sensitive handling" but it is "doubtful whether this option should be contemplated," it was noted.

There was one chance in 50 of a tidal flood in London in any one season, according to a July 1981 Environment Department memo, but "almost total protection" would be provided by the Thames Barrier which was due to be finished by December 1982.

A doom-laden image of a severe London flood as "the most damaging natural disaster liable to affect these islands" is painted in the document. There were fears of looting, civil disorder and "mass evacuation may be needed" as large parts of the flood zone would be virtually uninhabitable.

The document states: "It is generally accepted that there would be casualties, resulting from such causes as collapse of buildings, open manholes in flooded roads and individual failure to heed warnings and that, depending on the severity of the flood, deaths could be numbered in the hundreds rather than dozens."

Polluted stagnant water, flooded sewers, widespread electrical failure,damaged roads, bridges and buildings plus earth slippage and disrupted telephone and public transport network would all be on the cards.


From Belfast Telegraph