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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 January 2005, 19:29 GMT
Boscastle begins to look to future

By Sarah Mukherjee
BBC environment correspondent

The rubble one Boscastle home
Much of Boscastle still lies destroyed
The villagers of Boscastle are rebuilding their homes, their businesses and their lives - but a cursory glance around the central riverside part of the village, loved by tourists, shows the extent of the devastation.

It's essentially an enormous building site - industrial fencing encloses many areas where businesses and shops once stood, walls are exposed to the elements where once thriving businesses had formed part of this picturesque Cornish fishing village.

Villagers are relieved that the Environment Agency, in its report on the floods, has seemingly given qualified approval for the properties that were destroyed by the flood to be rebuilt, but their optimism is tinged with cynicism.

They are concerned that the proviso "in most cases" will give the local authorities room to effectively turn down planning application in the future.

We have already heard from one lady here who was refused permission, and people are worried that as the months roll on they will find it increasingly hard to get it.

And villagers say they don't think enough was done before the flood to prevent the event occurring.

A "once every 60 years" flood could happen in successive years

Local artist Raymond Rogers, whose ground floor was almost destroyed by the flood, said:

"Environmental concerns overtook flood awareness.

"Not enough was done to remove dead trees from the area around the river.

"When the flood happened those trees blocked up the river and helped to cause the flood."

Estimating the likelihood

Residents of Boscastle now have their first opportunity to question Environment Agency officials about the detail of their report.

The agency has said such a devastating flood could occur "only once every 400 years", but the residents will be shown a slide presentation which officials hope will help them understand what that actually means in practice.

They are likely to have lots of questions: If it did happen again, would it be a freak occurrence?

Prince Charles with ambulance crews
Prince Charles lent his support to flood victims
Or does that phrase "1 in 400 years" actually mean there is a likelihood of something like this happening again?

That likelihood is so difficult for Environment Agency officials to estimate.

A "once every 60 years" flood could happen in successive years as we have already seen in the south west.

Essentially the Agency is saying that an unlikely and unfortunate mixture of weather patterns and geography caused the devastating flood in Boscastle and they'll do as much as they can to prevent it happening again.

They say they are clearing rivers, draining land and clearing trees to make sure the chance of another flash flood is diminished as much as possible.

Privately, though, agency officials say they feel it's an impossible task to please all the people all of the time.

And getting the balance between nature and human habitation is a very difficult one.

But they say they are learning - agency officers involved in the clean up at Boscastle are already advising their colleagues in Carlisle about dealing with the aftermath of major flooding events.



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