Newcastle flats 'unstable' after flood damage

The foundations of the block of flats were almost washed away in the floods

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A block of flats in Newcastle has been left "extremely unstable" and in danger of collapse after floods.

The flats' foundations in Newburn were badly damaged after heavy rain deluged the area.

Hundreds of homes in Morpeth, Gateshead, Newburn, Rothbury, County Durham, Dudley and Sunderland were evacuated on Tuesday.

A clean-up operation has started after what the Met Office called the most intense September storm for 30 years.

Mick Murphy, technical director of Newcastle City Council, said the flats at Spencer Court were "extremely unstable" and the council was waiting for a break in the weather so the damage could be assessed.

Start Quote

We are just numb... It's a horrible nightmare”

End Quote Paula Davison Resident

"I have never seen anything like this in 33 years of civil engineering experience," he said.

Loud vibration

Concrete piles beneath the foundations have been exposed, he said, exacerbating an earlier problem following the collapse of a culvert on private land.

Residents from the flats and nearby Mill Vale have been evacuated and a cordon set up.

At the scene in Newburn

I can see a huge pile of mud which looks like it has landed from nowhere on what was once a bustling high street.

We now know it is a landslide which has been washed down from the top of the hill and the rubble, mud and silt also contains the foundations of a block of flats.

Diggers are working to get rid of the debris but it is going to be quite a while before they remove, for instance, a car I can see which is buried almost up to its roof in silt.

It is an unprecedented scene, and while it may look terrible down here, at the top there is a block of flats, teetering on the edge of collapse.

Paula Davison, one of those affected, said it was the fourth time her home had been flooded.

She described feeling a loud vibration, the house tremble and seeing a large amount of water heading towards her house.

"We are just numb. It's a horrible nightmare. We can't believe this could happen for a fourth time," she said.

In Morpeth, the floods minister Richard Benyon has visited residents affected by the town's second flooding in four years.

Many said they were angry work had not started on an approved defences scheme.

Minister 'devastated'

Mr Benyon said he was "devastated" for those whose homes had been flooded again.

"I just wish that this once-in-30-years storm could have waited until we had built these protective dams higher up the valley and these houses would have been protected," he said.

But he said the scheme was "complicated" and should not be rushed.

Floods minister Richard Benyon met residents angry that defences have not yet been built

"It requires careful design and implementation," he said. "We don't want to do a half-good job and then see people flooding again in the future."

Chairman of Morpeth Flood Action Group Alan Bell said residents welcomed the opportunity to make their point at ministerial level.

He said conditions had not been "as bad" as those in 2008, when nearly 1,000 properties were flooded.

"It was about 3ft less, but it doesn't keep away the trauma of the likelihood of flooding and yes it was less water but any water is bad," he said.

Travel improved

Mr Bell said about 30 or 40 properties in the High Stanners and Mitford Road areas of the town had been affected for a second time.

Rescue workers wade through flood water in Morpeth Rescue workers ran an operation in Morpeth

It was announced in February funding for a £21m flood defence scheme for the town had been approved. The government will contribute £10.6m with £12m coming from Northumberland County Council.

Wansbeck Labour MP Ian Lavery said: "The situation has moved on greatly since 2008 but these flood defences should have been in place by now, there isn't any doubt about that."

He also said he wanted to talk to Mr Benyon about the need for people to have access to low-risk flood insurance, he said.

Work is expected to start early in 2013.

Police said the situation on the roads had improved but advised drivers to take care.

Conditions affecting rail services have also improved but operators said there was still some disruption.

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