Learning From History – Boscastle, 10 Years On

With its narrow valley and picture postcard scene, the devastation which struck the small hamlet of Boscastle, England on August 16, 2004 illustrated like no other event, the damage our climate can do.

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Now, 10 years on from the day when five inches of rainfall in one afternoon combined with water funnelling downhill from the heavily saturated moors nearby, causing an instant wave of destruction as the river Valency burst its banks, we consider what changes have happened since and ask if Boscastle finally gave us all the flooding wakeup call we needed?

If there was a potential problem that the introduction of significant floodwaters could magnify, Boscastle probably provided the blueprint. As Phil Bull’s detailed report on the physical causes of the flood and its effects explained, the combination of catastrophic weather, a narrow valley and outdated sewerage systems unable to drain high volumes of water, and a small road bridge almost perfectly placed to collect debris such as fallen trees and cars, served to exacerbate the situation and deliver maximum damage.

In the aftermath of the deluge, insurance companies sent loss adjusters to the scene en masse with Crawford & Company drafting in its own support from across the U.K. to help property owners and businesses in this small Cornish village.

While Boscastle’s relatively few properties meant the incident could not be compared to many other flooding events, the story gained national attention fitting as it did within the confines of a single wide angle camera shot.

“It’s arguable that Boscastle was the quintessential flood surge event that stuck in the public’s OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
consciousness at the time because it looked so terrible as the water swept through the valley,” says Greg Gladwell, chief executive officer, U.K. and Ireland, Crawford & Company. “This was an extremely challenging incident to handle, with a total loss situation for many homes and businesses, particularly the tourist trade on which the region relies so heavily.”

The upshot, says Gladwell, is that 10 years on, despite a bumpy ride, the insurance industry appears to be maintaining its side of the bargain on floods.

“As the embryonic Flood Re begins to take shape, all we can ask of our institutions is that they learn and adapt and while there remain many challenges in facing the U.K.’s considerable flood risk problem (The Association of British Insurers estimates an average of £1bn+ per annum), catastrophic incidents like Boscastle, Carlisle a year later, and Tewkesbury three summers later, have provided valuable experience from which we have learned a great deal.

“Now as adjusters our contracts are much more inclusive and include a specific reference to surge handling,” says Gladwell. “Meanwhile we have a considerable range of partnership arrangements in place with experts, consultants, engineers, builders and contractors so that flood-hit property owners can be well supported. Finally, while we have to remain a lean operation in order to provide value to our customers, Crawford has implemented robust overflow relationships so that surge events like the Boscastle flood can receive a prompt response from expert adjusters.”

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