YORK has known devastating flooding many times before.

Time and again, the city's defences have been improved and adjusted, as new lessons have been learned.

Since the Second World War, notable floods in 1947, 1978, 1982 and 2000 stood out. More recently, there were also serious floods in 2007 and 2012.

But despite the history, the events that unfolded immediately after Christmas 2015 were shocking and devastating. Over the course of a few days, York suffered its worst flooding in a generation.

On Monday 28 December, the Ouse peaked at 5.2 metres above its normal summer level.

But the problems were not confined to the streets and properties beside the Ouse.

The shock failure of the Foss Barrier meant the Ouse floodwaters backed up the Foss for the first time since 1982.

About 500 homes alongside the Ouse, the Foss, Tang Hall Beck and Osbaldwick Beck were inundated.

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James Street travellers' site (above) was also severely hit. Many distraught residents said they had lost everything.

In total in York, 250 people were evacuated from their homes. Council-run rest centres provided temporary accommodation for 115 people at the height of the crisis. 

Around 10,000 sandbags were used, with 600 military personnel, 125 mountain rescue members, York Rescue Boat teams and countless volunteers helping to rescue flood victims or to fill and distribute sandbags around the flooded areas.

A remarkable community response saw neighbourhoods rallying to help. Several local churches collected and handed out donations, and members of Batley Mosque joined members of York Mosque filling sandbags and visiting victims.

More than 14,000 people have joined a facebook group, to share requests and offers of help, and to coordinate the relief effort.

Many businesses offered food, emergency accommodation, hot showers or labouring work to help repair the damage.

Other facilities were prepared at Energise Leisure Centre in Acomb, and Foxwood Community Centre and the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Acomb Road also became focal points for donations and offers of help.

An online appeal to help raise money for those worst affected drew huge support, and chocolate giant Nestlé, whose UK operations are based in York, donated £100,000.

Within a month, around £1m in aid had been distributed, largely through grants and tax exemptions for victims.

Tadcaster also suffered terribly. The 300-year-old main bridge through the town collapsed on Tuesday 29 December, after sustaining unbearable pressure from the risen Wharfe. The moment was captured on film.

Local buildings were evacuated as engineers dealt with a resultant gas leak, and BT had to fight to save local phonelines.

Pocklington also suffered lesser flooding, and County Bridge between Malton and Norton was closed. The bridge between Sutton-on-Derwent and Elvington was also closed.

Back in York, the Ouse had stopped just short of the all-time high of 5.4 metres, recorded in autumn 2000, however the city-wide flooding was more devastating due to the failure of the Foss Barrier.

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It was allowed to open on Saturday 26 December after the pumping station was flooded, leading to floodwaters from the Ouse flowing back into the Foss.

Renewed flood warnings had been issued that morning, and on Christmas Day North Yorkshire firefighters had dealt with 35 flooding incidents in Skipton, Hawes, Harrogate, Knaresborough, Easingwold, Scarborough, Malton.

The Environment Agency said that if the Foss Barrier were not lifted, it could have jammed in the closed position, causing even worse flooding for 1,800 properties.

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As a result of the move, huge areas were flooded for the first time in many people's lifetimes. Foss Islands Road was closed, Foss Bank and the river were indistinguishable, and several cars parked off Layerthorpe were almost completely submerged.

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By December 29, the barrier was operational again. The army flew in emergency equipment the day before and repairs were carried out overnight, but by then it was too late for many.

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Householders were left counting the cost and many business owners in the city-centre said they were given no warning the barrier was being lifted.

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Victims were shocked, but the vulnerability of the Foss Barrier had been raised before with city leaders.

In 2014, the city council's own Flood Risk Management strategy said millions more needed to be spent on York's defences - including £2 million at the Foss Barrier.

And its 2007 flood risk strategy also raised concerns. In 2000, it said, the barrier's pumps had failed for a few hours, leading to a rapid rise in the Foss. Major Foss flooding was only narrowly averted then, but the report said: "The loss of a flood control system due to circumstances such as this is a real possibility."

Prime Minister David Cameron visited York on December 28 and promised to spend whatever was needed to help ease the emergency. He met volunteers and rescue teams, but was heckled by one member of the public about cuts to public services. A week later, on January 3, he pledged £10 million to boost York's defences.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also visited the city, and condemned five-year cuts in flood defence budgets.

At its height, the flooding caused major knock-on problems. 

Floodwaters swamped the basement of the BT telephone exchange in Stonebow on the evening of Sunday 27 December, damaging electrical equipment and cutting landline and wifi broadband services for thousands of York customers.

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People across the city lost phone and internet connections, and many mobile networks failed or struggled, with some people unable to make or receive calls. 

Many buildings in the city-centre had no internet or phone connections on the Monday, and most shops, pubs and cafes were able to take cash payments only, as card machines were down.

Two local music businesses were among those counting the cost, losing thousands in equipment.

The Jorvik Viking Centre flooded for the first time in its 31-year history, and faces closure for up to a year. The cells at York Magistrates Court also flooded, meaning many cases will need to be moved to other courts until further notice.

Criminals also exploited the situation. Looters targeted the evacuated homes of flood victims, prompting fury from police and a warning from the Honorary Recorder of York, Judge Paul Batty QC, that anyone convicted would be punished severely.

Elsewhere though, there were stories of hope, resilience and community spirit.

York Foodbank volunteers worked through the night to save 13 tons of supplies.

Two York binmen saved a 93-year-old woman from her home in Fulford.

And across the region, communities rallied. Businesses helped one another, local people organised collections and support groups, and a group in Norfolk drove a 44-tonne lorry full of donations to the city, to distribute around the various centres. By New Year's Eve, City of York Council was able to say it did not need any more donations.

Over the coming months, many people nominated unsung heroes for recognition, and The Press and City of York Council teamed up to present 50 York and District Medals.

By the morning of Tuesday 29 December, most businesses were beginning the clean-up. City-centre streets such as Walmgate, Piccadilly and The Stonebow were again free from flooding but the problems persisted in the east of the city.

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City authorities anxiously monitored the possibility of further heavy rain on as Storm Frank hit Britain, but York was thankfully spared the worst this time.

York Press: Floods in Nether Poppleton

A van in Poppleton on Sunday 27 December

Firefighters from around the country came to York and North Yorkshire to help, including from Tyne and Wear, Durham, Darlington, Nottingham, Norfolk, Northampton, South Worcester, Northumberland, Humberside and Lincolnshire.

North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue's High Volume Pump from Harrogate was used at the Melrosegate Electrical Sub Station to keep it going, preventing 55,000 customers from losing power.

Technical Water Rescue teams in breathing apparatus went into the flooded basement of the Foss Barrier to retrieve the electrical cabling, to accelerate the repair work. 

Deputy chief constable Tim Madgwick said on December 28: “The emergency services and our partner agencies including the army have done a tremendous job in responding to the devastation caused by the floods.

“250 people were evacuated from their homes and 150 were placed in rest centres overnight (on Sunday night).”

A City of York Council spokeswoman said on the morning of December 29: "The situation is improving but there is still a lot of work to be done and all agencies continue to work hard to get the city moving and working as normally as can be expected. Around 650 homes and businesses have been directly affected by flooding in the city centre."

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Walmgate on Sunday night. Pic: Alfio Fresta

Archbishop Holgate's School off Hull Road was used as a rest centre and around 15 to 20 families who were using it were later placed into emergency housing.

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The Ouse on December 29. Picture: Steve Carroll

What made these floods so unusual was the failure of the Foss barrier, meaning many properties were flooded for the first time in a generation.

The Environment Agency said on the night of December 26: "Because of water entering the Foss Barrier building, the pumps are in danger of failing due to electrical failure.

“The decision has been taken to lift the Foss Barrier as if it fails in the down position water will be unable to discharge into the River Ouse.” 

As that night fell, water had almost reached the top of the ground floor windows of York’s Kings Arms pub.

The following day, rescue efforts were in full swing in parts of York, with many streets under water. People were also rescued from homes overnight and roads were closed.

Residents of Huntington Road were among those who had to be evacuated by boat on Saturday night and police at one point feared as many as 3,500 properties could be affected.

The Environment Agency told people in the threatened areas to move their valuable belongings upstairs and to prepare for evacuation but many people were angry they had not received more warning, including business owners who had closed for the festive Bank Holidays and returned to a scene of devastation.

Work on the Foss Barrier has been ongoing throughout much of 2016.

The Scarborough and Ryedale Mountain Rescue Team was also deployed to York; the A64 was briefly closed eastbound and the A1079 at Dunnington was only just passable.

Joint "silver command" with police, fire and rescue, and other agencies was set up at Fulford Road Police Station.

People were urged to contact friends and neighbours, or vulnerable relatives in the affected areas.

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Ahead of the worst of the flood, earlier warnings had been issued for the Ouse at Clifton and the Foss at Huntington Road and Foss Island.

Sandbag flood defences were put up across the city and residents were moved out of one council care home.

Water Lane in Clifton was impassable, and flood warnings were also in force on Skeldergate, Peckitt Street and St George's Field.

York Flood Group - made up of the City of York Council, the Environment Agency, North Yorkshire Police, North Yorkshire Fire & Rescue and Yorkshire Water - then met on December 27 to discuss the worsening situation.

The group meets only when the River Ouse levels reach, or are expected to reach, 4.2 meters above normal summer level (asl).

Water Lane, Clifton this afternoon. Video: Steve Carroll

Both Rowntree Park and St George's Field Car Park were closed, and a long list of other roads also had to be closed, including:

  • Huntington Road – from the Monkgate roundabout and Hayley’s Terrace/Fossway Junction
  • The Monks Cross Link Road
  • Foss Islands Road
  • James Street 
  • Walmgate
  • Piccadilly
  • Rufforth Main Street
  • Water Lane
  • Foss Bank (Near Go Outdoors)

Residents in the council's Windsor House residential home were relocated within other council owned residential homes because of minor flooding in the basement of the buidling.

Sandbag defences were put up in Peckitt Street, Tower Gardens, Tower Place and Clementhorpe. The access bridge to City Mills Residential Home was also erected.

A spokesman said front line teams from all organisations were working round the clock to protect residents, tourists and to keep York open for business and aside from the Monday, the city mostly was.

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Flooding on Water Lane, Clifton on Boxing Day. Picture: Steve Carroll

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Elsewhere the heavy rain caused problems on the A64 in Ryedale, in Tadcaster, and in Knaresborough.

In Tadcaster, prescient locals were fearing the worst by the Saturday. Resident Wendy Binns said then that the Wharfe had still to peak and said there were fears for the safety of the bridge. 

A few days later, those fears were dramatically realised.

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Above: Police guard the closed bridge in Tadcaster on December 27. (Picture: Wendy Binns). Below: The aftermath of the collapse. (Picture: Frank Dwyer).

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This car came off the road in the centre of Elvington. Its driver, an elderly lady, was rescued by a passer by, reports Tom Wright, who sent this picture.

The Environment Agency said at 9.14am on Saturday: "A flood warning has been issued for the River Ouse at York, Clifton.

"The Clifton flood warning has been issued due to rising levels on Burdyke.

"The pumping station at Burdyke is running to full capacity, however, due to the volume of water in the beck the level has risen to 3.9m and is unable to discharge into the River Ouse due to high levels."

At 3.30pm, the River Ouse was 3.88m above its normal summer level with more rain forecast.

And then the disaster unfolded.