London was hit by flash flooding on Tuesday, leaving businesses and homes in the heart of the capital's prime shopping district badly damaged following incessant rain.
Cars and buses were seen slowly driving through several inches of floodwater in Knightsbridge, which recorded heavy overnight rain. Water could be seen seeping through the ceilings of luxury stores of the area, just metres from the Kuwaiti Embassy and Harrods.
Firefighters were forced to carry people over flooded streets during the clean-up operation. Among the businesses affected was Al Basha, an Egyptian restaurant that was forced to close as a result of the rain.
Head chef Elias Sawaya told The National that all of the food would have to be thrown out. Mr Sawaya said as he surveyed his damaged kitchen and found rain water dripping from the ceiling on to containers meant to pack takeaway food. Floodwaters had rushed through the front door of the restaurant, into the bar area and down the stairs to the bathrooms, storerooms and kitchen.
Mr Sawaya said the downpour was a heavy blow after two years of difficult trading conditions. “Things were getting better after the pandemic, we were going upwards. Now we have to throw the food out," said Mr Sawaya.
Magdy Khalil, owner of Al Basha restaurant, at 48 Knightsbridge, said his business could have been saved from much of the flooding if the drain running beneath the road had been unclogged sooner. “The problem is this happened before but we were here and we unblocked the drain and then the water went,” he explained. “The firefighter told me they couldn’t find the drain to unblock it. They should have a map or something. If we were here the problem would not have been this bad.”
Jacques Azagury, who has made dresses for Diana, Princess of Wales, and international royals, said his boutique had been hit hard. One wedding dress estimated to be worth £12,000 had been destroyed. He has more than 300 dresses on site.
"This might be sewage that came up from the drains," he said. "If a dress is damaged it is ruined. No one wants to buy a dress that has been cleaned.
"We are working on dresses for two brides at the moment but if they have been destroyed we will have time to re-order material."
Mr Azagury, who opened his store 35 years ago, said he will likely have to refurbish his boutique before it can be reopened.
Weather forecasters recorded about 35 millimetres of rain in nearby St James Park overnight, most of which fell within an hour.
Knightsbridge flooding - in pictures
"Torrential rain continues to move east this morning, with localised flooding possible," the Met Office said on Twitter, in an early morning update.
"St James’s Park in London has recorded 26mm (just over an inch) of rain in the past hour".
Vicky Powell, the owner of Beautyspot salon in Knightsbridge, was alerted to the flood by friends who called her in the early hours of the morning. The businesswoman, who is based in Abu Dhabi, tapped into live footage from security cameras and was saw that the basement was completely submerged in water.
Ms Powell, who also runs salons in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, said the damage done to her London venue was “absolutely devastating”.
Speaking from Abu Dhabi, she said business had been picking up since the relaxation of travel rules.
“I called my manager and said we are underwater, someone needs to get there quickly. It’s absolutely devastating," she told The National.
“I was there last week and the salon was starting to pick up with clients from the Middle East again. We have a lot of Emirati clients who come to London and we have a female-only floor."
She estimates it may take the salon up to a month to return to business as usual as many of the electrical equipment for pedicures and facial treatments will likely have to be replaced. Ms Power said she spent £1.2 million on renovations of the salon in 2019, a year after another flash flood hit the building.
“I don’t know where we go from here,” she added: “The basement is the worst. There is a marble floor in reception that I’m sure has been destroyed. If there’s not a couple of hundred thousand pounds worth of damage I’ll eat my hat.”
Ms Powell also said authorities should have acted sooner to block off the road, as the passing buses and cars were making “tidal waves driving through it”.
Nellie Simons, manager of the Beautyspot salon, said after being carried through floodwaters by a firefighter she found the basement submerged in half a metre of water. The floor, which is reserved for female clients, includes a hair dressing section, nail bar and private treatment rooms. A small prayer room which is popular among Arab clients particularly during Ramadan was also flooded.
Ms Simons told The National she was still waiting to find out the full extent of the damage as electrical equipment such as hairdryers had to be left to dry. She said the business would be shut for the foreseeable future and would "take a long time to recover".
Raj Barot, owner of Sterling Lights and Interiors, said he was ordered to shut his store by the London Fire Brigade over safety fears.
He was first alerted to the damage when he arrived at the store at 10am on Tuesday.
Safa Al-Naher, owner of Serene dentistry practice, said staff would have to undertake a massive clean-up effort following the flood, but hoped she would be back up and running by next week.
"I got here and saw my dental surgery underwater. We had 20 people booked in for today," she said. "We haven’t been able to get on to the computer system yet to cancel appointments."
Harrods Department store told The National it remained unaffected by the flooding and was operating as normal.
A staff member at Nusr-Et's new London venue, which is less than 200 metres from the flooded area, also said it had escaped damage.
Buses have diverted from the area as a result of the weather and many transport services, including the London Underground, have been badly disrupted.
Transport for London said flooding at Gloucester Road Tube station had caused severe delays on the Circle and District Lines. There is also no service between Kensington (Olympia) and Clapham Junction because of flooding in the Imperial Wharf area.
“Due to heavy rain throughout the early hours of the morning, there has been flooding in different areas across the capital, which has had an impact on the road network," a TfL spokesperson told The National. "We have been working hard with borough councils to open roads as quickly and safely as possible and we’re very sorry for any disruption caused.”
The torrential rain has also affected other areas of England, causing some motorways such as the M23 in Essex to be shut.
The capital has been hit by several instances of flooding in the past year. In July, hospitals in East London were forced to ask patients to stay away after their emergency departments were flooded following thunderstorms.