Ian Kemp, General Manager for North Cornwall, reflects on the Boscastle flash floods which devastated the village a decade ago.
Ten years ago my job took me to Boscastle only once every ten days or so. August 16th 2004 just happened to be one of those days.
I had gone to the village for what should have been a routine meeting with our shop staff. By mid-afternoon the river had swollen to the size of the Thames at Westminster and the shop staff and I found ourselves scrambling up steep valley sides to safety under the watchful gaze of an RAF helicopter rescue crew.
From our vantage point on the valley side it was clear that nothing was going to be routine about Boscastle for a long time to come. Cars were being washed out to sea in large numbers, uprooted trees shot past in the whirling mass of mud, debris and water below, and bridge parapets and buildings had started to collapse.
By mid-evening the flood waters were receding revealing horrific scenes. Tearful and dazed onlookers stood in shocked silence. In a very short time homes had been ruined, livelihoods destroyed and a community plunged into turmoil.
The National Trust’s response to the flood and our involvement in the recovery and restoration began that evening. Queuing to use one of the few phone lines still working I spoke to colleagues and hastily arranged meetings at our regional office for the following morning. Little did I know at that point that it would be a full five years before the ‘Boscastle Regeneration Project’ would be complete!
Our response went through distinct phases. Initially we took stock and assessed the damage, offered immediate help to our friends and neighbours, assisted in County Council’s command and response structures and organised volunteer clean-up sessions. Over time planning the recovery and restoration works took over. As a major land, property and business owner we had a big part to play. We were also keen to influence the wider restoration works; to ensure both that the charm of the historic village and its landscape setting should not be compromised by the recovery efforts.
A few days after the flood we set ourselves some standards for the work to come. One still sticks firmly in my mind; ‘when the work is complete’, we said, ‘visitors coming back to the village should not be able to tell what has happened’.
The National Trust was only one of many partners involved in the recovery and restoration works but I think we made a real difference and passed the test that we set ourselves in those early post-flood days.