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 Thursday, 2 January, 2003, 15:31 GMT
Businesses guard against flood chaos
Flood damage in Lewes in November 2000
The floods of 2000 destroyed a number of businesses
A spate of flood alerts have sparked painful memories for businesses in Lewes, East Sussex, that suffered millions of pounds' worth of damage during severe flooding two years ago.

Rising insurance premiums and battles for compensation have made life difficult for the traders operating in the Riverside food hall in Lewes ever since.

The businesses were submerged under five feet of water in the autumn of 2000, and a number of them have only just received compensation.

They fear a repeat performance would leave them unable to recover a second time.

Blooming threat

Claire Wilson has been running Riverside Flowers, the centre's florist, since 1996.

Her stock was entirely wiped out in November 2000 as water rose through the food hall's drainage system and flooded the ground floor.

"The loss adjuster just walked in and was out again in two minutes.

"The whole lot was gone," Ms Wilson told BBC News Online.

Riverside Flowers
Ms Wilson's flowers were destroyed in 2000

But it took 14 months for the florist to receive any form of compensation, and Ms Wilson had to rely on the goodwill of her bank as well as friends and family to rebuild her business.

Her insurance company has since doubled the premiums for Riverside Flowers, and now refuses to cover flood damage in its policy.

"The insurer was one of only about two companies who aren't obliged to cover again.

"Nobody will cover me," said Ms Wilson as she watched the river Ouse in Lewes rise yet again this week.

She says the danger of another flood could sink her business.

"I didn't realise how worried I was until I came in and started shaking."

Meaty result

Next door to Riverside Flowers is Staplehurst Butchers, a family business that suffered a similar fate.

"In our business, you couldn't keep anything," Susan Staplehurst told BBC News Online.

By a twist of fate, Prince Edward was pictured visiting the butchers on a tour of the Riverside food hall after the flood.

"Luckily the loss adjusters saw that, and we got our compensation," said Mrs Staplehurst.

The couple got away with paying just 2,500 excess. But their insurance policy is up for renewal at the end of January, and - given the experience of their neighbours - Mrs Staplehurst is expecting the worst.

"I don't even know if they'll offer us any cover at all, or if flood damage will be included."

Taking care

Riverside's caretaker, Kevin Seymour, told BBC News Online that almost all the businesses in the centre had suffered some kind of increase in their insurance premiums since the floods of 2000.

Mr Seymour is also the manager of a sandwich shop in the centre, which was forced to pay an excess charge of 10,000.

"That's a lot of money for a small business," said Mr Seymour.

He said traders were now taking all the necessary precautions required by insurance groups, including laying sand bags and avoiding using any water which might fill up the drains.

We know that it can happen again, and with great magnitude

Miles Jenner, Harveys Brewery

"We will flood before the river floods," he said, referring to the damage caused in 2000 when the centre's drains overflowed and caused much of the damage.

"We're putting our flood defences out......we know a repeat would affect us considerably."

Brewing up a safety plan

On the opposite side of the road, Harvey's Brewery is still settling its claim from the last floods.

The business saw dozens of empty beer casks washed out into the English Channel two years ago, but was back in business within nine days.

Joint managing director Miles Jenner told BBC News Online the brewery has since conducted a risk assessment and is taking action to minimise any further damage, such a moving barrels up from the ground to the first floor.

"We're far more concerned about this than we would have been before.

"We know that it can happen again, and with great magnitude."

See also:

31 Dec 02 | Business
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