Joe Saxton was caught up in the floods at the weekend near his home in Keswick. Here is his moving account of what it was like
The details of flood damage n Keswick came in as Saturday evening wore on, like reports of casualties on a battlefield. ‘The Hodgsons has gone’. ‘Hamish is stranded on his 2nd floor’. ‘There is a caravan rammed against the Fitz Park bridge’. ‘The Forge bridge has gone’. ‘Coledale High bridge is gone’. ‘Braithwaite is flooded’. ‘The town centre is flooded’. Social media spread the news of the floods person to person, while the storm raged outside.
People knew something bad was coming. It rained every day in November in Keswick bar three. Saturday’s weather forecast for Keswick had two raindrops every hour of the day and right. And it was right.
Through the torrential rain, and howling winds, on Saturday afternoon my son and I had walked into town to see what was happening. The enormous 2 tonne steel flood gate, just installed in 2012, had water pouring over it. We walk on past a row of houses 5 feet below the water cascading over the new reinforced flood wall. This was the highest anybody had ever seen the water. The new defences added two feet of protection against rising waters. And they were easily breached.
We offered to help a man put sandbags against his front door. He said he was fine. The next morning his garden had disappeared and his house was flooded. We met people trying to decide whether to fight the waters or leave. We walked past Anna’s house and thought she should be fine. Later that night the waters stole in her home.
It is very difficult to imagine what a flood is like until you’re in the middle of one. The worst is the terrible, terrible, power of water in flood. I found a hole in the road where stones that I struggle to lift were littered across the road and the tarmac lifted like an enormous pancake. By the next morning there was no stream, no water in sight.
The best of the floods is what people do for each other. Everywhere people are checking on neighbours. We rescued a mother and daughter unable to get home and offered them a cup of tea. They stayed the night. Neighbours, charities, voluntary groups, local authorities, rescue services, even the Army are there trying to help. Mountain Rescue are everywhere. The RNLI sent crews up to Carlisle from as far as away as Weston Super Mare. It is the best of humanity.
By Sunday morning as the rain has stopped and the floods receded, the clean-up and damage assessment begins. Five bridges have been washed away or are felt unsafe, roads have been ripped up. People think about the houses but not the farmers whose fields are covered in silt, rocks and even boulders and their fences destroyed. The town cricket pitch, the football pitch, the tennis courts, the bowling greens and the playground are all ruined. And other towns are hit worse than us.
As chair of the local branch of the Federation of Small Businesses I know there are many businesses, particularly small businesses, who are particularly badly affected. The man who fitted our kitchen has been flooded for the third time in a decade. Podgy Paws the pet shop is flooded again. The toyshop in Cockermouth has flooded for the third time in decade, but hopes to open this week. Keswick’s two supermarkets are closed. Any flooded B&B will now lose any Christmas bookings. Some will struggle to be ready for the 2016 tourist season. Just as businesses have been creeping back to normality after the recession and the floods of 2009, they are hit again. Once more, so many families and businesses are determined to get back on their feet.
Its easy to want to blame somebody, however the rainfall record for the UK was set on Saturday at 14 inches in 24 hours (that’s 60% of Cambridge’s rainfall in a year). Think also of Chennai in India where the worst floods in a century at the moment have killed 280 people in a city of 4.6 million.
When the floods hit, nature at its very worst, raw, destructive and unforgiving was on display. Also on display was the very best of human nature, compassionate, considerate and selfless. For that we can all be thankful.