AS the water tore through people’s homes, destroying furniture and treasured belongings in its path, residents could do nothing but watch in disbelief.
It was the worst flooding the city had seen in over 80 years, causing millions of pounds worth of damage to properties, road networks and utilities, the result of a 36-hour downpour on a scale unimaginable to those who were otherwise going about their regular business back in April 2000.
Across the city the damage was widespread, the pitch at Murrayfield Stadium submerged, more than 2000 telephone lines brought down, and yachts broke their moorings at Cramond.
“I remember people had their furniture lined up on the pavement here in the days after,” says Tom Dougall, an engineer with the city council.
Tom is standing at the end of Bell Place in Stockbridge. The sun is beating down on the neighbourhood’s stylish colony homes, their gardens awash with colourful plants and lush green shrubs. Quite a different picture to that 11 years ago.
This street was one of many badly affected by the April 2000 floods after three walls along the nearby Water of Leith collapsed under the strain of the flood water.
Today there is still disruption taking place in the community, but this time it is intentional as attempts are well under way to prevent anything like the damage witnessed in 2000 from ever happening again.
Flood prevention work in the area began in the spring and is now in full swing, bringing a sense of organised chaos to Stockbridge as complex defences are driven into the ground to protect the area against flooding. This is the first of three flood prevention phases along the Water of Leith, this one working up stream to Bonnington at a cost of around £25 million.
“Could it ever happen again?” says Tom. “Well, this scheme is designed to protect against worse flooding than was seen in 2000. This will protect against a one-in-200-year event – the equivalent of a flood that has a 0.5 per cent chance of happening every year.
“The flooding in 2000 was considered a one-in-100-year event.”
Around the corner in Reid Terrace, a 75-tonne machine is using hydraulic power to push giant steel sections – known as “piles” – into the banks of the Water of Leith.
The interlocking sections are wedged eight metres into the ground to form a steel wall, the top of which will eventually sit just 1.5 meters above ground level, clad in reinforced concrete and then stones – from the original wall – to reflect the materials in the overlooking colony homes.
The river looks as though it has been halved, a solid stone “road” having been built on one side, now bearing the weight of the giant machine responsible for driving the steel beams into the ground.
“We often get asked why we have done that,” says Stuart MacKay, from the contractor Lagan Construction Limited, whose job it is as stakeholder manager to keep the public informed of what is taking place on their doorsteps.
“This is all temporary though and is simply serving the purpose of giving the heavy machinery a reliable, level base to work on.”
In fact, tonnes of soil from the original river bank have carefully been stored – and labelled – in a depot in Leith, and will be returned to the river when the flood prevention work is complete. The countless tonnes of stones brought to allow the platform for workers will be removed beforehand.
“The biggest problem we have had with this project is the tiny narrow streets that make up the colonies,” explains Stuart. “That’s why we built the bridge.”
In the distance, a temporary crossing over the Water of Leith can be seen, connecting Reid Terrace with Arboretum Avenue – a street badly affected by the flooding in April 2000.
Stuart explains that the temporary bridge meant that access to the river did not have to be made by carving up people’s gardens, closing off streets or restricting parking in the area – the only other practical option available, but one not deemed acceptable by either the city council or the contractor. The householders had been through enough already.
“We call this area Beirut now, on account of all the work going on,” laughs 74-year-old Maureen Cochrane who lives in Reid Terrace in an upper colony with her husband Alan. “But we’re grateful it’s happening.”
“Nobody’s fighting it,” chips in 81-year-old Alan. “It’s not like the homes affected on the tram route.”
The couple were in their house – owned by Maureen’s family since 1918 – when the floods struck in 2000, and were lucky to escape damage on account of the water flooding the other side of the street.
“We felt very fortunate that it did not affect us,” says Alan, a retired playwright. “When it rains, it does make you a little wary of what could happen. This work needs to be done and we just have to accept the disruption in the meantime.”
What was once the couple’s communal drying green is now a building site, although they have been promised it will be reinstated, good as new, in around a year’s time when this phase of the project is complete.
Like most residents in the area, they are happy to accept whatever work needs to be done to protect their properties for the future.
“The people who remember the April 2000 flooding are happy with what we are doing,” explains Stuart. “I have met a lot of people who lost things in the floods that can never be replaced – the likes of birth certificates and photographs.
“And it wasn’t just water that entered their homes – it was whatever that water brought up from the sewers as well.”
“But we do get letters from people who are not happy,” adds Tom. “Some people don’t think we should be spending money on this – they think it could be better spent elsewhere.
“Throughout this whole process we have tried to take the public with us and on the whole I feel we have.
“There is a feel-good factor about this project.”