But just six years later, it has happened again – and now they are calling for compensation.
The flash floods on Bank Holiday Monday, May 28, brought misery to scores of residents and businesses in the town centre.
Wayne McConnell, who lives with his wife and 18-month-old daughter in their South Terrace basement flat, said they were ‘about 30 seconds away from being electrocuted’ when water started bubbling up through the floors and from the cellar: “By the time we noticed the water, it was about to reach a four-way plug socket on the floor. Luckily, I switched the power off in time.”
They lost thousands of pounds worth of possessions, and their floorboards will need replacing – made worse by the fact they found out their insurance does not cover flooding. The music teacher said he would have to watch his prized £8,000 piano ‘die a long slow death’ after getting wet.
While Southern Water gave residents dehumidifiers and disinfected their properties, the 39-year-old and his neighbours believed they were to blame for the flooding because the pumps to clear the sewers were not working.
He noticed on a few occasions that water levels in his home suddenly dropped when Southern staff entered the pumping station nearby. He said: “Southern just tells us the drains nearby aren’t able to cope. I don’t buy it, because otherwise it would flood every time it rains.”
Lucy Birkinshaw, 49, said her basement flat had ‘absolutely no security’ because she had to leave her window open for a pump to drain the space by her front door, which was waterlogged.
She said: “It’s so distressing. It is making me think ‘do I want to live here anymore?’”
Yasmin Hassan, 41, has lived in her basement flat since 2003 and had to rebuild her life when it was filled with three feet of water mixed with sewage in the 2012 floods. This time, her bathroom and outbuildings were flooded.
A Southern Water spokesman said they ‘deeply sympathised’ with residents, adding: “We understand flooding is distressing and wherever possible we work hard to reduce the possilbity of it happening.”
They said the stations that serve South Terrace are fitted with automatic pumps, which performed correctly during and after the deluge according to their tests.
No ammonia was in the flood water samples they tested, meaning any sewer flooding was ‘diluted significantly’ by the rain.
After further inspections, they said: “We are satisfied the flooding was caused by the heavy rainfall overloading the drains and sewers, and not by the failure of any of our equipment.”
Since 2012, Southern spent £300,000 upgrading three storm pumps at their foreshore pumping station, and building a mini-pumping station in Pier Road in 2013.
Anne Kenny, whose flat was flooded, claimed the drains were clogged with grass cut from East Green. Arun District Council said it is meeting with all the partner agencies and local businesses to see how they can prevent flooding in future.