Portland storms: 'It was like looking out of a porthole'

Cove House Inn in Chiswell Image copyright Richard Broome
Image caption Bedrooms have been flooded and windows "smashed by pebbles" at the Cove House Inn at Chiswell

The Isle of Portland has seen its fair share of wild weather over the years, jutting out south of Weymouth in the English Channel. From the Great Gale of 1824 when 26 people lost their lives to severe flooding in the late 1970s, which saw 94 homes underwater, the residents have weathered many a storm. But how are they coping with the latest bout of extreme weather to hit the community?

So far this year, seven properties have flooded on the island, according to the Environment Agency.

"It was as though I was under the sea and looking out through the porthole of a submarine," Margaret Young said, describing the moment her house in Chiswell was hit by a wave.

"I was upstairs making the bed and there was a terrific crash and the house was engulfed - it was awash with green sea water outside," she added.

In January, flood sirens sounded for the first time since they were installed on the island more than 30 years ago. They have since been used on three more occasions.

"The first time they went off it was dark and you couldn't see anything. It was quite scary," said Mrs Young, who has lived in her house, close the the seafront, for 18 years.

"The weather has been quite remarkable really, just the sheer height of the waves."

Image copyright Marc Smith
Image caption Portland Beach Road has been closed twice this year because of flooding

Waves at Chesil Beach have recently measured up to about 6m (20ft) high, which for the area is "quite significant", according to the Channel Coastal Observatory, which records the data.

"I've never seen anything like it and this is certainly the first time we've been flooded," Mrs Young added.

The Cove House Inn has also taken a battering during gale force winds and heavy rain.

Landlady Amanda Broughton-South said: "Some of the bedrooms have been flooded, windows have been smashed by pebbles from Chesil Beach, roof slates have gone and outside lights have been ripped off the walls."

The extreme weather has also, predictably, affected business.

"Some people have been too frightened to travel to Portland because they've been frightened of the beach road being closed and getting stuck," she added.

Image caption Larger items of furniture, including the sofa, are propped up off the ground in Margaret Young's house

Portland Beach Road has been shut twice this year because of flooding - including on Friday when the county council said it was under more than 4ft (1.2m) of water.

"We were stranded," said Derek Fairminer, who has a holiday home at Chiswell but lives in Surrey.

"We'd already had one of the most horrendous journeys down to Portland, with huge delays, and then when we got here we couldn't get on the island," he said.

Instead, he and his family took refuge at Weymouth Pavilion where a rest centre was set up.

"We finally got to the house at about 05:00 on Saturday morning and then the sirens started sounding again, and the water was lapping at the curb," he said.

Mrs Young said the Environment Agency and emergency services had been "fantastic" and although she had been given the opportunity to evacuate her home, on several occasions, she had chosen to stay.

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Media captionWaves have crashed over the sea wall at Chiswell, overlooking Chesil Cove, Dorset. Pictures courtesy James Grant

"I've felt more in control of what happens to the property by staying," she said.

"As water started seeping through the sandbags and flood board at the front door, and into the living room, my son and I swept it through the kitchen and out of the back door.

"No-one would have been here to do that had we not chosen to stay.

"Plus, because the water has not had chance to sit and soak in, the damage is minimal, just a few tiles dislodged from the wooden flooring."

Many of her belongings remain in the upstairs rooms of her home including "the box file with all the insurance paperwork in it".

Larger items of furniture, including the sofa, are propped up off the ground "just in case".

"Most of it is up on the table which belonged to my late husband John's aunt," she said.

"He used to recall how he would hide under it when the bombs were going off during the war - so it's seen its fair share of drama now."

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