‘Angel Tsunami’: Thames Water faces traders’ fury as bill for flood devastation is expected to run into millions
Traders: 'It’s appalling, as bad as it could possibly be, just before Christmas'
09 December, 2016 — By Koos Couvée
Flooded gardens in Devonia Road, where one resident said: ‘Water just flowed through with a massive force’. Picture: Polly Brown
FAMILIES and traders furious with Thames Water after a major flood devastated Islington’s antiques quarter have been backed by leading economist Will Hutton.
The floods, dubbed the “Angel Tsunami” by one resident, were caused by a burst in a major pipe in Upper Street on Monday morning.
Millions of gallons of water gushed down Camden Passage, Charlton Place and Colebrooke Row before flooding gardens and wrecking basements in Devonia Road.
Burst water pipe that caused the flooding
Residents may not be able to return home for months as the expected repair bill for damaged homes, businesses and goods rose to the tens of millions of pounds. Flood victims blame Thames Water for failing to invest in its infrastructure.
The floods caused damage to some 35 businesses in and around Camden Passage just three weeks before Christmas. Millions of pounds worth of irreplaceable antiques, some from the 16th century, were destroyed as basements holding valuable stock were flooded.
Furious traders who blasted Thames Water for its failure to prevent the burst pipe were backed by Mr Hutton, who made a Channel 4 documentary featuring the water firm last year.
He told the Tribune: “Dividend distributions [for Thames Water shareholders] have run into the billions over the past decade and anyone that knows about Thames Water will tell you that this is what it’s about, a secure form of income. They will conform with the regulators but won’t go over the minimum.
“They will say their investment is as good as it can be but the question is, if dividends had been more modest or if it was owned as a mutual, whether this [flood] would’ve happened.”
Jackie Monte-Colombo, 64, whose downstairs bedrooms were damaged by water
Thames Water is owned by Kemble Water Holdings, a consortium formed by the Australian Macquarie Group, which is based in the tax haven Luxembourg.
Paul Webb, of the Style Gallery, in Pierrepont Row, which was wrecked by the flood, said: “This should never have happened. They’re a huge company and they’ve got to keep [water pipes] up. This has destroyed a huge amount of history that can’t be replaced.”
No one was injured but around 100 people had to flee when the 160-year-old pipe started leaking in Upper Street at around 4am and burst about an hour later.
Devonia Road resident Jackie Monte-Colombo, 64, whose downstairs bedrooms were destroyed by the water, said: “The back of the house just went. We heard the noise of the water just flowing through with a massive force after the garden wall came crashing down. The force of the water was just so great.”
“It’s just mental that this has happened again,” said David Wertheim, whose Japanese Gallery in Camden Passage, set up by his parents in 1978, has been flooded before. “It absolutely kills businesses.”
Finbar McDonnell, 83, whose shop selling antique prints and maps off Camden Passage was flooded
Tom Clarke, who runs Camden Passage Sites Ltd, which manages the area, said: “This is totally catastrophic. It’s appalling, as bad as it could possibly be, just before Christmas. It could really not be any worse.”
Thames Water, which has apologised for the flooding, has assured traders and residents they will be fully compensated for damage caused and trading losses.
Council chief Richard Watts added: “This is a shocking incident and we’re lucky that no one has been killed, given the depth that the water reached.
“My thanks go out to the fire brigade and council staff, and the Steam Passage pub, who all responded so well.
“In the coming days and weeks, we have to send a strong message out that Islington is open for business. But further down the line some serious questions have to be asked about the nature of the water mains in Islington. The scale of this problem is very serious.”
Michael Webb, Pauline Coakley Webb and Paul Webb, from Style Gallery
Thames Water said that under the current owners it has invested an average of more than £1billion a year for the last 10 years, including spending on the renewal of more than 1,700 miles of ageing water mains.
It also said it has the third-lowest combined water and waste water bill in England and Wales, while investing the most per customer. A spokesman for the company said: “Our engineers arrived within an hour of the burst being reported and worked fast to stop the flooding.
“We’ll be carrying out a thorough investigation into what happened. Our priority now is to make sure customers and businesses affected are looked after and are supported through the insurance process.
The big clean-up: Workers get scrubbing in Camden Passage
“While we do our best to go out and actively search for leaks and use technology to pinpoint potential problems, we have 20,000 miles of drinking water pipes – many over 100 years old – and bursts do happen.
“We’ll carry out a full and thorough investigation into what happened but in the meantime our focus is to get this pipe repaired and support our customers through this difficult time.
“Our insurance teams have knocked on the doors of every affected building to talk to our customers about getting back on their feet and we’ve set up a special phone line so they can call our loss adjustors direct to get the answers they need.”