Photographer Simon Dawson spent 10 hours wading through waist deep floodwater as parts of the River Thames reached its highest levels in more than 60 years causing widespread flooding.
Starting at the Thames Barrier, closed for a record 18th consecutive time to reduce the risk to the capital from tidal surges, Simon recorded the dramatic scenes affecting homes and businesses stretched out along the river as far as Datchet, a small village in Berkshire, some 30 miles from the barrier.
Its not like the English to complain about the weather! Why was this rain different to most?
Well yes, we Brits do like a good moan about the weather, but this was something else. It has been one of the wettest winters on record and the South East was particularly hard hit. The rivers swelled covered huge swathes of land destroying homes and businesses.
Where did you go to photograph the floods?
I headed to the Surrey, Berkshire border just on the edge of London. I grew up a few miles from there so I knew the area well, and I knew it had been badly affected.
It’s not your usual beat, what preparations did you make? Did you need to waterproof your camera?
Well I started the day outside a court waiting for an insider trading case in a shirt and trousers! I always carrying wellies in my car boat, but I knew these wouldn’t be enough so I went a purchased a pair of waders. It wasn’t a particularly fetching look.
What did you find on arrival?
I found a scene more like Venice than the English countryside. Water had cascaded through rows and rows of residential streets, and at some points the water had risen above my waste.
How were the locals to photograph? Were many of them still living in flooded homes?
A lot of locals had already abandoned their homes, but some had stayed through fear of looting. The people who I spoke to were generally very friendly and grateful that the media coverage who had pushed the government into action.
The biggest danger was that the water was deep and murky and I couldn’t see where I was stepping. I had heard a story of rescuer worker almost being sucked away through man hole covers and I had seen a few photos of cameramen falling over in the water. I also was standing waist deep ion water when the thunder and lightning started.
Would a boat have been useful?
Well the locals had their dinghies out in force. Walking through water for miles is hard work so a boat would have been great. Maybe I’ll put one on expenses next time.
How deep was the water?
It came up above my waist. Cars were submerged, and houses which were built above the supposed flood line had been breached.
Were the shops still open?
In the village of Datchet the Costa Coffee store had managed to protect itself, and was seemingly doing good business as a new waterside café.
Any pedestrians on the flooded high street?
It was very odd. Perhaps the strangest thing was seeing swans swimming down cul-de-sacs and waiting by residents’ doors to be fed. One of the locals told me he had to ban his wife from feeding them.
So you liked it so much you went back for more?
Well it’s a hard story to cover in one day because travelling around is not easy with so many roads shut. I spent ten hours shooting on the first day.
You visited the Thames Barrier. Tell me about this angle on the UK floods assignment?
Well the Thames Barrier on the edge of South East London helps control the flow of the Thames river towards the south west. It is strangely beautiful and the backdrop of Canary Wharf, the financial district, gives reference to the cost of the economy of the recent storms.
Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg
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