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A flood which swept away bridges
12 Aug 2008 12:30 BST

By Giancarlo Rinaldi
South of Scotland reporter, BBC Scotland news website

The deluge and downpours of recent weeks make it easy to think that the washout Scottish summer is a thoroughly modern phenomenon.

People in the Borders know different.

The scenes at Kilbirnie in Ayrshire and in north east Fife in recent weeks have carried echoes of traumatic events from exactly 60 years ago.

By 12 August 1948, many parts of Berwickshire had been hit by one third of their annual rainfall - in the space of just six days.

The floods it caused have been described as the greatest natural disaster in the history of the Borders.

The rivers Tweed, Blackadder, Whiteadder, Till and Eye Water all overflowed causing huge amounts of damage.

A seven-foot wall of water from the Whiteadder swept over Cumledge Mills near Duns and 42 workers houses adjoining the mills.

Heavy machinery was lifted from its floor fixings and walls and roofs collapsed.

Low lying farmland near Ayton was turned into a giant inland lake estimated to be more than a mile long and 28ft (8.53m) deep containing 400 million gallons (1,820 million litres) of water.

The lake was only held back by a 60ft (18.28m) high railway embankment on the main Berwick to Edinburgh line.

There were fears the embankment could collapse sending the water rushing down a gorge onto nearby Eyemouth.

'Hurricane impact'

A 24-hour watch was put in place, with coastguards ready to fire warning rockets to signal that about 2,000 residents should start evacuating their homes.

Although that risk subsided, Eyemouth did not escape unscathed.

Reports said that gales and the impact of the overflowing Eye Water had the "impact of a hurricane".

Essential repair costs at Eyemouth harbour were estimated at £25,000.

Elsewhere, the River Tweed rose about 17ft (5.18m) above normal levels and almost reached the top arches of the historic Coldstream Bridge.

In Coldstream itself, the Market Square flooded for the first time.

At nearby Greenlaw, the River Blackadder put houses under four feet of water.

A rail bridge in the village also collapsed, just minutes after a train had passed over it.

One unfortunate local baker even saw a huge telegraph pole carried by the flood waters float down the street, smash through his shop window and then float straight out the back again.

The damage to roads and bridges was widespread.

In one incident a coach had to be pulled out of the River Whiteadder after the Millburn Bridge on the Duns to Cranshaws road was swept away.

The bus - carrying 25 parents and children - was returning from a day trip to Portobello when it crashed into the water.

The driver and 11 passengers required hospital treatment.

Repairs bill

A survey later showed that 20 bridges in the area had been washed away, while a further seven were badly damaged.

Such was the scale of the disaster that the Army was called in to assist.

The Royal Engineers helped to put up wartime Bailey Bridges in order to allow many routes to reopen.

However, the whole recovery operation took time and the main East Coast railway line was shut for 11 weeks.

The repairs bill for the destruction has been estimated at the equivalent of £40m nowadays.

It was the kind of devastation which anyone who witnessed it was unlikely to forget - even six decades later.