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New flood warning system will help protect homes and businesses in the Western Isles

South Benbecula causeway from South Uist.
South Benbecula causeway from South Uist.

A new coastal flood alert system is being rolled out across the Western Isles which could protect nearly 7,000 homes and businesses.

The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) has developed its Floodline service in partnership with the Western Isles Council to include more specific information for those living on the islands.

It is designed for the most at-risk coastal areas on Lewis, Harris, Berneray, Benbecula, North and South Uist, Eriskay, Barra and Vatersay.

Residents can sign up to Sepa’s Floodline to receive advance notice of where and when flooding is expected including shorter range warnings to tell them flooding from the sea, heavy rain or rivers is possible in their area.

The new service, supported by a dedicated forecasting model, includes 24 flood warning areas, with 16 also providing notice of coastal flooding and disruption to roads and causeways.

Within those areas are 1,000 homes and businesses directly at risk – though the environmental agency says nearly 7,000 properties overall could benefit from advance warning of issues like travel disruption.

South Uist councillor Paul Steele urged residents to sign up.

He said: “The more warning we get the better we are able to plan and prepare.

“Localised notifications will be very handy for the community, first responders and emergency services, and will enable them to get procedures in place where they are most needed.”

In 2005,  severe storm and flooding caused the loss of five members of the same family in South Uist.

Mr Steele said: “Events like that are expected once every 50 years and we’re  now 15 years in.

“The worry is with inland flooding, but the advice given by Sepa is that although the warning system isn’t covering every area, you’ll be able to judge based on the warnings they give, knowing that you’ll be affected if you’re between two areas.”

Paul Copestake, Sepa flood advisor said: “The storm event on 11 January 2005 had a widespread impact along the west of Scotland and its islands from Fort William in the south to Orkney in the north.

“For many locations, including for Eilean Siar it remains the largest coastal flood on record.

“After this storm, Sepa was asked by the Scottish Government to incorporate coastal flood warning into the new Floodline service, which at the time focused on river flooding.

“The service developed at that time remains part of the regional flood alerting service which SEPA provides for all areas of Scotland. ”

Mr Copestake said the new local and targeted flood warning scheme is based on enhanced forecasting capabilities, integrating detailed modelling, survey data and monitoring as well as forecasting real time data.

“Coastal flood forecasting for Eilean Siar and Orkney – where a similar scheme has been in operation for the past two years – requires modern computing speeds and the associated innovative science which has only recently become available.

“The Eilean Siar scheme builds on the astronomical tide levels and adds in the surges caused by storms as well as the impact of overtopping waves on natural and built coastal defences.

“This provides the very best advanced warning available for the likely impact to communities and connecting roads and causeways.”

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said being prepared for a flood event is critical.

“We know the devastating impact that flooding can have on communities and livelihoods – and we know climate change can make this worse.

“Being prepared for any flood event is critical if we are to manage the risks and promote long term flood resilience.”

People can sign up for the Floodline service by visiting www.floodlinescotland.org.uk/eileansiar or calling 0345 988 1188.

The floodline is being rolled out as Scotland marks one year until COP26,  the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, and aims to help at-risk communities deal with increased flooding in future.

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