Over 5 inches of rain fell on the region in less than 24 hours in what was the worst storm in over 50 years. The intensity of the downpour increased as the day wore on, with nearly constant thunder and lightning illuminating the dark, eerie sky.
Land in the area was already sodden as a result of the wet summer of 1968, causing 'sheet run-off' to occur. Some fields were covered by 3 to 4 inches of flowing water, washing trees and debris into the River Chew, causing obstructions to form at bridges and weirs. At Chew Magna the reservoir overflowed into Winford Brook, further swelling the River Chew.
Some time during the late evening, one of the debris-stricken bridges finally succumbed to the pressure and was demolished, sending a swirling torrent down to the next bridge, where the process was repeated and multiplied.
This created what eye witnesses called a 'wall of water' which crashed down the Chew Valley, swamping buildings, destroying bridges and washing away parked cars as it progressed. The 10 feet tall wave reached Keynsham shortly before midnight, carrying with it a heavy cargo of debris.
Many accounts made mention of the terrific noise made by the approaching wave. Long standing road bridges at Pensford, Woollard and Keynsham were destroyed beyond repair, causing major traffic problems in what was the height of the holiday season. Damage to property ran into millions of pounds.
A total of 8 people lost their lives as a direct result of the flood, including 3 of the 4 occupants of a car that was washed from the bridge at Bath Hill in Keynsham. The sole survivor was rescued from a tree 5 hours later. Many people throughout the region had to be rescued by boat from flooded houses, rooftops and cars, with many spending the night in village halls.
As the flood waters receded the clean up operation began, with the Army installing temporary Bailey bridges and whole towns working together to clear away the mud and to make damaged properties fit for use again.
The normally passive River Chew had left a trail of destruction that would take years to repair. A detailed account of the Chew Valley floods of July 1968 can be found here
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