EDITOR'S CHAIR: We got away lightly - but what happens next time?
10:02am Thursday 9th January 2014 in News
LAST week's storm surges and high tides in Newport, Monmouthshire and the surrounding areas put many families and businesses on the brink of disaster.
Thankfully, flood defences in the main did their job and few people had the truly horrible experience of seeing their homes flood.
I've seen at first hand the true misery that flooding can bring.
From 2007 to 2011, I was editor of the daily Worcester News. Within a couple of months of taking the job, the city and surrounding areas like Evesham and Tewkesbury suffered their worst summer floods for more than a century.
Hundreds of people had their homes flooded, businesses were wrecked, and sporting organisations like Worcester's racecourse and county cricket ground lost millions of pounds in potential revenue.
Some who were forced out of their homes were unable to return for more than a year.
So the exceptionally high tides on the Usk and the Wye last week were small beer in comparison.
That is not to belittle the experiences of those people who faced the trauma of evacuation last Thursday night and Friday morning.
But there is no doubt we got away lightly this time.
But the real question is what happens next time and are we properly prepared for it?
Local authorities and emergency services, in general, did a great job last week as they prepared for a worst-case scenario.
I think there are some public bodies that still do not understand the power of social media in emergency situations, but that is a minor quibble.
The fear for the future is whether the public sector will have the staffing levels and funding to deal with the problems they faced last week in the future.
Government cuts - with more to come this year, according to George Osborne - mean that in the future there will be fewer people taking charge in emergencies like we had last week.
Whether you believe in climate change or just the cyclical nature of weather, there is no doubt we are in a period of conditions more severe than we have seen for many decades.
That may well mean heavier rainfall, major storms and severe snowfall for years to come.
To be fair to central government, there has been substantial investment in flood defences since 2007.
But more is still needed and, despite the squeeze on public sector costs, more money needs to be spent on ensuring the nation is better prepared for the more extreme weather we are experiencing.
There have been few casualties of the floods this time around.
It goes without saying that lives should never be put at risk because of cost-cutting.
For most people, last week's high tides were a minor inconvenience and little more than a visitor attraction.
But that will not always be the case and all involved public bodies, as well as the Welsh and UK governments, need to ensure the appropriate funding is in place to cope with flooding in the future.
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