It was the speed of the flooding that really scared Joseph Wilkins. The manager of Trailer Happiness, a basement bar in Portobello Road in Notting Hill, watched in disbelief on Monday evening as the flood water rose from 2 inches to 1.5 feet in just five minutes.
Ten minutes later, the water was waist-deep. “It was like something out of the Titanic,” said Wilkins. “We had water gushing at us from all angles: from the manhole in our floor to the ceiling, which is at ground level, and everywhere in between.”
Nearly three inches of rain hit the capital in 90 minutes on Monday night. Flood water poured through the streets. In Raynes Park, south London, cars were abandoned in 2ft of water.
In Barnes Green, two men in swimming shorts took a dip as a park in Richmond was turned into a swimming pool. In Turnpike Lane, north London, people had to wade through the water as heavy rain flooded pavements and roads.
In Portobello Road, Wilkins watched horrified. “It was scary and biblical. One moment the water was bubbling up from the manhole, and the next furniture was floating around the bar and the fridge was falling on to its side,” he said.
Mary Dhonau, a former CEO of the National Flood Forum and now an independent flooding expert, said so much damage had been done to drainage and sewage systems that everyone was at risk of flooding – even those who live on hills.
Cities need to undergo a “wholesale sponge-like transformation”, she said. “We’ve done this to ourselves. We’ve paved over the equivalent of 22 Hyde Parks by digging up our gardens so we can park in them. We’ve built super-basements, we’re expecting drainage and sewer systems hundreds of years old to cope with massively increased population sizes, and of course there’s climate change.”
Paul Cobbing, the current CEO of the National Flood Forum, said the government had to act to protect cities from future flooding. “Last year it was Norfolk. This year it was London and Peterborough. Next year – or tomorrow – it will be somewhere else. Central government has to initiate a cross-sector approach to deal with this issue. We need to act.”