THEY have won the battle – but the war is far from over.
A two-pronged attacked has been launched to save Winchester from disappearing under water, but with up to three-quarters of a month’s rainfall expected in the next five days – 60mm – the race is on to draft up the next action plan.
Firefighters, Royal Navy personnel, council workers, police officers and Environment Agency workers all joined forces to build a 70ft barrier across Park Avenue and create a massive artificial pond at Easton to ease pressure on the under-threat city.
As dusk approached on Wednesday night, a 50-strong team got to work on building the barrier, which successfully pulled the water back from the road’s edge and kept Winchester open for business for another day.
Station manager Alex Rhodes said: “We couldn’t let the water go across the road and flooding the city centre.
“We didn’t have time to wait so with the help of the Navy we got the job done.
“What it has done is important. It has bought us time to consider what to do next when the next storm comes, and it has kept Winchester open for business.”
There are currently two high volume pumps, one from the Isle of Wight, working 24 hours a day to pump water into the waterways from the site, pumping 84,000 litres of water an hour.
In Easton, the Environment Agency dumped 80 one-tonne sandbags into two main streams of the River Itchen to slow the flow of water – currently 15 tonnes of water a second going downstream – and see water spill on to some 250 acres of farmland between the M3 and Easton Lane.
Defending the deliberate flooding of the farmland, Mike O’Neil, operations manager, said there was no threat to homes in Easton.
He added: “We are taking action to reduce the risk of flooding but our aim is not to increase the risk of flooding to other people.”
Last night Winchester police station, which contains the electricity transformers for the high volume pumps, was close to flooding and facing evacuation, forcing Chief Constable Andy Marsh to put contingency plans into place.
He was joined by Simon Eden, chief executive of Winchester City Council, Simon Moody, of the Environment Agency, and Dave Curry, Hampshire Fire and Rescue’s deputy chief officer, outside the station in Park Avenue last night to explain the multi-agency approach which has so far kept the city open.
Mr Eden said: “There is a serious risk to the city that we could see flooding of upwards of 150 houses. You can’t stop it completely but we’re managing it. We don’t know how much rain will come down so you can’t make those promises.”