An investigation has been launched into the flooding which swamped Brighton beachfront businesses on Thursday, causing damage which is likely to total many thousands of pounds.
And one trader saw what he described as a “reverse waterfall” spouting 10ft in the air from what he believes is a vent leading down to the storm drain on the beach close to the Palace Pier, blowing a crater in the shingle.
The deluge led to a long lake forming along the seafront, and this picture by @hashtag_omg of floodwater pouring from the storm drain out the outfall in the groyne next to the Palace Pier was shared hundreds of times on social media.
Several businesses in the King’s Arches suffered significant flood damage, including Riddle and Finns, and the Gym Group’s Madeira Drive basement, and the latter two were both closed until early this week for extensive repairs.
A spokeswoman for Southern Water said: “We are carrying out an investigation so, until that is complete, we are unsure of the cause.”
Mike Hedger, owner of Brighton Bike Hire in the King’s Arches by the Palace Pier, said: “It was a pretty harrowing time because unlike a tidal flood, you didn’t know when this was going to stop.
“I was working in the shop and wanted to know where the water had come from. I came out, and saw what was like a torrential waterfall, but going the other way, into the sky. It was just Niagara Falls in reverse, ten foot in the air.
“It had blown a crater sized hole in the pebbles, it was like an asteroid had come and blown a hole in the beach.
“I’ve worked on the beach for about 20 years and I’ve never seen anything like that before. I was stuck in my shop and thought I was going to have to evacuate, but then it just went.
“A rumour quickly went round that someone was cleaning and forgot to open the sluice gate up. It’s a rumour, but it’s plausible because as quickly as the water came, it suddenly went away. There was a foot of water in the shop and 20 seconds later it had gone.”
Mr Hedgey, like other beachfront traders, struggles to get flooding insurance due to his location, so will have to foot the bill for damage and a day’s loss of trading, which he estimates is about £500, although he is intending on making a claim against Southern Water.
However, he says he is lucky compared to other traders, as he was on the scene and so able to stop more damage being caused.
Marcus Tester, Regional Manager at The Gym Group, said: “The local storm drains were completely overwhelmed by the deluge of rainfall we received in Brighton last week.
“As The Gym in Madeira Drive is located at sea level the water backed up through the drainage system with nowhere to go, resulting in the flooding.
We are currently investigating a solution to the problem and we can only apologise to our members for the temporary inconvenience. We’ve worked extremely hard in the past week to ensure the water was drained from the premises and a thorough cleaning process has taken place.
“We will be working with our landlords and, if necessary, the local water authority to identify a more permanent solution to the problem.
“The Gym Brighton Madeira Drive is now open as usual.”
Adam Brian from Riddle and Finns said it was too early to estimate the cost of the damage to the business yet, and all efforts were being concentrated on getting up and running again.
The beachfront restaurant has been posting pictures on Twitter this week of the repairs, including ripped up floorboards and a new kitchen being delivered.
Brighton’s massive storm water collection drain, which is large enough to drive a vehicle through, was built during the late 1990s along the beach.
Before that, the outfalls along the beach like the one pictured on the groyne, which are connected to the city’s Victorian sewer system, could release raw sewage into the sea during storms.
Southern Water reassured Twitter users on Thursday that the water then pouring out of the outfall was just rain water, and not sewage.