Leeds floods one year on: Businesses get back on their feet

DECEMBER 2015:  Cars under floodwater at Viaduct Road Kirkstall Road in Leeds.
DECEMBER 2015: Cars under floodwater at Viaduct Road Kirkstall Road in Leeds.
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The destructive floods that arrived while Leeds was basking in festivities the day after Christmas in 2015 tore through the heart of the city.

But the rainwater that lashed Leeds left more than material damage in its wake - the worst flooding in 70 years destroyed livelihoods, tested people’s resolve and pushed them to the limit.

Sheesh Mahal owner Azram Chaudhry.

Sheesh Mahal owner Azram Chaudhry.

Today, one year after the River Aire burst its banks, the YEP looks at how the people of Leeds recovered after being submerged on Boxing Day.

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Against the gentle hum of passing cars, shops filled with festive stock roll up their shutters as the sun rises over the viaduct on the day after Christmas.

Walking along Kirkstall

Road today, it is unrecognisable from the scenes of destruction that flowed through the streets one year ago when the River Aire burst its banks and swallowed almost everything in its path.

The busy route towards the city centre was closed off on Boxing Day as pavements, homes and businesses were plunged underwater.

While for some businesses in the area the damage was irreversibly catastrophic, others managed to reopen in the weeks and months that followed after the water drained away.

But even 12 months on, the watery scars left by the floods still run deep.

Azram Chaudhry, who owns the much-loved Sheesh Mahal Indian restaurant on Kirkstall Road, continues to suffer from the effects of that devastating downpour.

His eatery was submerged 10 feet underwater, causing more than £250,000 worth of damage after the storms hit.

Despite hopes of an early reopening in autumn, the doors of the popular restaurant remain firmly shut one year on from the flooding.

“It was terrible. Financially and mentally,” the dad-of-three told the Yorkshire Evening Post.

“I’m so drained. The place has been closed for a year but I have not had a day off mentally.

“I wouldn’t wish this on anybody and I hope it never returns.”

As Boxing Day continued, severe flood warnings were issued by the Environment Agency for the River Aire and the Vue cinema complex, in Cardigan Fields, staff was evacuated when water levels rose dangerously high.

Deluge was also reported at the Cardigan Trading Estate and Savins Mill Way, near Morrisons’ supermarket, while the emergency situation worsened into the evening.

“It looked like a river, a little river,” Mr Chaudhry said.

“I even saw a few people sitting on children’s toys and canoeing on the road. That’s how bad it was.

“We put loads of sand bags against the doors but the water was at such a high speed, there was nothing we could do.

“Life goes on and you have to get on with it. The flooding was terrible but it was one of those things.

“You can’t change nature.”

But as the rushing water emerged on Boxing Day, so too did the resilience of the people of Leeds.

As a community, hordes of volunteers rallied together in the city’s hour of need to play their part in an ever-increasing clean-up effort.

Mr Chaudhry added: “I don’t call them volunteers, I call them angels. They were sent from heaven.

“The amount of people who just came and helped me, without them there would have been no way to clear the mess.

“The support of customers too has been incredible for me, through emails, the internet and Facebook. Every single person has been wishing me well.

“There has even been people trying to book six months ahead for a table for when we’re back.”

Now, more than 12 months after the floods closed the restaurant, Mr Chaudhry said he will be fighting back the tears when he finally reopens in January.

“I will be proud to reopen but I don’t think I will be able to serve anyone,” he said.

“I think I will be standing at the door hugging people to welcome my family back to the restaurant. I think I will be in tears.”

Mr Chaudhry hopes the final touches of work will be completed inside the building at the start of January.

He plans to reopen the restaurant to customers during the second week in January, 2017.

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