Towyn is a small town in Wales, with a population of just 2000 people. It is developed on low-lying land next to the Irish Sea, between the larger, older towns of Rhyl and Abergele (both sited on higher land).
Until 1800 the area was undrained marsh long, on a floodplain of the River Clwyd. During the 1800s, an embankment was built, which totalled 3km in length, and a railway was constructed. This railway line crossed the low lying area known as Morfa Rhuddlan, and linked Chester and Holyhead. The shortage of housing in Wales meant the area in and around Towyn was being used to build more houses, and attracted retired people and people wanting holiday homes. This meant there were more people in Towyn and the community was growing, since the housing was first built in the 1920s.
At the end of February in 1990, there was a "depression" with very low air pressure. This type of weather attracts storms, and also results in higher waves with larger force, as there is less pressure on the water. At this time of year the tides were at their highest. This combination meant the sea levels were higher than all previous records in North Wales. Also, the low lying area of Morfa Rhuddland directly behind the town would fill up with sea water if sea defences was breached. Severe storms already weakened the sea wall by the 12th February. These are all specific physical causes.
Specific human causes such as the sea wall being over 140 years old and been kept in poor condition also contributed to the breach in sea defences.
A very high wave known as a Storm Surge combined with high winds and high tide in order to cause 10 metre waves to crash through the sea wall and breach the railway embankment. At 10:30am, on February 26th 1990, water washed over the sea defences around Towyn. By 11am, the 140yr old embankment had been breached, and until the tide dropped water surged over the land, spreading nearly 500m. In the worst hit areas, water was up to 2m deep.
Nearly 3,000 properties were flooded, and thousands of people were evacuated from Towyn and nearby towns such as Kinmel Bay. Many people were elderly and lived in bungalows. This meant there were often no undamaged rooms in the house. Nearly 50% of people did not have house insurance.
The electricity, sewage and water pumping systems were all broken with insurance claims expected to come to a total of £20 million. The town also relied heavily on tourism as this was its main source of income. The floods at the beginning of the year meant that the summer season would be ruined, which meant that the town suffered with no income.
After 3 months, 1000 people were still not able to return to their homes, and there was a serious knock on effects on tourism, resulting in a loss of income for many people living in Towyn. There are all long term effects of the floods.
Thousands of homes were evacuated and large numbers of people left homeless when devastating floods hit the North Wales coast 25 years ago this week.
Up to 6,000 residents were forced from their homes when 2,800 houses were evacuated in Kinmel Bay and Towyn as the sea flooded the area on February 26, 1990.
Westerly storm-force winds and a high tide with a 1.5 metre surge caused huge waves which led to a 400m breach of the sea wall. The resulting flood covered four square miles.
When the waters receded, a massive rock revetment was built to ensure the defences would not be breached again.
But the physical effects of the flooding were felt for months and the threat from Mother Nature remains.
See the devastation caused by flooding in Towyn and Kinmel Bay in 1990
Barry and Lynda Griffiths rushed home from work as the weather worsened on that fateful day 25 years ago.
Mr Griffiths, who is the chief flood warden for Towyn and Kinmel Bay, said: “I was working in St Asaph and was told that Kinmel Bay was flooded.
“I drove home along St Asaph Avenue and everything appeared normal until about halfway along. I saw the fields where there had been grass were now breaking waves of water.
“Dulas Avenue was flooded above kerb height, and there was a few inches of water in our garage, which is lower than the bungalow.
“I said to Lynda that it was a close call and, as I put down the brush, a small wave rolled back into the garage followed by another and another. The water rose quickly.
“I intended to carry stuff to the car, which was parked by the railway bridge, but we realised water was rising fast in a strong wind and I would not be able to make a second journey.
“We left and waded out together with what we could carry, passing rubber boats in the street and with helicopters overhead. Unknown to us, the situation in Chester Avenue and Towyn was much worse.”
The stress of flooding is still affecting our community
The Griffiths family checked into a hotel that night, but had to live in a caravan in their garden until repairs to the house were completed in October 1990.
Mr Griffiths said: “I developed opthalmic shingles. Managing the long post-flood period was very stressful, and this has not changed today as victims of the 2013 flooding will testify.
“In general terms, we as a community are better informed than ever in terms of flood risk plans, alerts and warnings.
“But warnings can be assumed to be false alarms, and at what point do people evacuate after a warning and before a flood?”
After the sea wall at Towyn was breached in 1990, the authorities carried out emergency repairs by laying rocks on the wall.
A row of rocks of up to 10 tonnes was laid in a line parallel to the shore, and the gap between it and the sea wall was filled with more rocks to absorb the impact of the sea.
A University of Chester team led by senior lecturer Dr Servel Miller, who is the programme leader for the BSc in Natural Hazard Management, is still researching the likelihood of a repeat of the flood.
Dr Miller is looking into the factors contributing to vulnerability in the area, the social impact of flooding, lessons learnt since the Towyn event and attitudes towards a proposed tidal lagoon.
Conwy county councillor Stuart Anderson has long backed an electricity-generating lagoon to create power and absorb the effects of bad weather.
He plans to raise the issue and the 25th anniversary of the Towyn floods at a full council meeting on Thursday.
For more information on flooding in the Towyn and Kinmel Bay area, visit the Community Flood Plan website.