How Leeds came under siege from Mother Nature

Car and pedestrian make way through floodwater on Kirkstall Road in Leeds after the River Aire burst its banks.  Picture Tony Johnson
Car and pedestrian make way through floodwater on Kirkstall Road in Leeds after the River Aire burst its banks. Picture Tony Johnson
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FOR businessman Chris Howard, Leeds’s day of flooding hell began at four in the morning.

He was awake at his home in Churwell using remote cameras to check the river levels outside the Aire Bar, which he runs on The Calls in the city centre.

“With the weather forecast the way it had been, it seemed pretty much a given it was going to be a difficult day,” Mr Howard told the Yorkshire Evening Post yesterday.

Difficult was to prove something of an understatement, as the city found itself under siege from Mother Nature.

When Mr Howard arrived at his bar at about 7am, the Aire already appeared to be rising by around a foot every hour.

It would be some time, however, before people in the rest of the city became aware of the chaotic scenes unfolding around local waterways.

Social media did much to spread the word, with a picture of a wall collapse and landslide in the Micklethwaite area of Wetherby being posted on Twitter early in the afternoon.

The Met Office had by then issued a red weather warning for Yorkshire, saying widespread damage, travel and power disruption and risk to life was likely.

At 3.15pm, the Environment Agency found that water levels on the Aire at Crown Point in the middle of Leeds stood at a record 2.55 metres. Levels at that location typically climb no higher than 1.35 metres.

The situation was just as alarming in Armley, where the Aire had risen to 4.61 metres by 4pm.

The severity of the problems confronting Leeds and much of the rest of the north of England was underlined as David Cameron said he would be chairing a conference call of the country’s COBRA emergency committee.

Yet Yorkshire’s resolve endured, with a picture emerging of a man rowing down Hunslet’s flooded South Accommodation Road in a dinghy.

A fund launched to help hard-hit communities in Calderdale received thousands of pounds in donations in the space of a few hours.

Remarkable photos taken by the YEP around 9pm showed Kirkstall Road resembling a river, with a string of cars abandoned.

Reports of an early evening explosion in the Call Lane area added to the sense of growing mayhem.

By 10.30pm, an estimated 15,000 people in West and North Yorkshire were without power.

Morning came, thankfully, with drier weather and news that the Aire had hit its peak at Crown Point just before 3am.

There was little sign of an improvement on the city’s roads, though, with routes such as Kirkstall Road and Swinnow Road still out of action.

And, back at the Aire Bar, Chris Howard was looking at around £100,000 of damage and a wait of four to five weeks before he can open up again.

The waters may now be subsiding, but memories of an unhappy day in the city’s history will take much longer to fade.