Ten years ago Uckfield woke up to unimaginable scenes. The town centre was flooded, an inshore lifeboat was in action in the High Street while an air-sea rescue helicopter hovered overhead, writes Paul Watson.
A wet early autumn followed a wet summer and when a line of storms that had brewed in the Bay of Biscay hit East Sussex and dropped 150mm of rain overnight, (about six inches) the River Uck could not cope.
Water poured into people’s homes, shops and factories. It was an horrendous scene as day broke on October 12, 2000.
People were rescued by lifeboat from flats above shops and supermarkets at the bottom of the High Street.
Jeweller Vernon Bishop was swept away from his shop at Bridge Cottage at 7.20am where he was trying to save stock.
The current took him several hundred yards downstream where he struggled up on some dry(ish) land near Anvil Close after his legs became trapped in a tree.
Cries for help
His cries for help were heard and he was rescued by helicopter and flown to the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath suffering from hypothermia.
Uckfield was defenceless when the storms hit.
Upstream of Buxted the water poured off the steep slopes of the saturated land and into the river.
Levels rose rapidly and the area at Buxted where the road crosses the river was flooded.
At Uckfield the river broke its banks as the channel through the town was too narrow to carry the water away.
Havoc at Lewes
Water coursed into the town centre and parts of the Bellbrook estate before pouring back into the river on its headlong rush downstream where it flooded farmland and then on to cause havoc at Lewes.
Floods struck the county town just after lunch when flood water met the in-coming high tide.
In Uckfield the water:
- Poured into homes in Olives Meadow;
- Threatened properties in the older part of the town, off Framfield Road;
- Reached bar height at the Cock and Bull pub;
- Submerged cars at Caffyns on the opposite side of the road;
- Reached a depth of 2m in places;
- Left early-bird workers on the Bellbrook Business Park stranded;
- Swept food and clothes from supermarkets and stores into the street;
- Destroyed stock at many other businesses in the High Street, Bell Walk and on the industrial estate.
Large crowds came into the town centre throughout the day to view the damage and it is no exaggeration to say they saw something similar to a war zone.
Amazingly, not a month later Uckfield was again flooded when the Uck broke its banks. On this occasion, the damage was much less severe.
However, for many people the upset and the agonies of the October flood went on.
One of the saddest sights was to walk in Olives Meadow and see people’s furniture and belongings stacked on the pavement; awaiting collection for disposal.
It would be many, many months before their homes were properly inhabitable again.
Most firms and businesses got over the upheaval with McDonald’s showing fleetness of foot.
Its restaurant had been open only a year but it was flooded to a depth of six feet.
Burgers were back on the menu within a fortnight of the flood after a prefabricated building was “craned” into place.
*Over the centuries Uckfield has been prone to flooding with many examples during the 20th Century.
*The last two occasions when the town has flooded were caused by storm water being unable to get away through the drains. The Uck on those occasions had not burst its banks.