Guest post: "The physical and emotional trauma of flooding is unimaginable"
Susan Spillard shares her experience of being flooded over Christmas and urges everyone to check their flood risk
Posted on: Tue 01-Nov-16 14:53:24
(7 comments )
It was the run up to Christmas and my family and I were looking forward to the festivities. We were living in a beautiful old farmhouse in Stoke Canon in Devon, which we were renting. There were 11 of us gathered together, including my two grandchildren (three years and eight months old), and my father, who had just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's.
A few days before Christmas – Friday 21 December 2012 – water began to rise at an alarming rate in the lane outside the house. A barrier was built across the gates in an attempt to stop the water from coming up the drive and into the farmhouse.
The next day water started rising up through the floorboards in our home. We got some pumps and started to move the water out. We took it in turns to pump out water, moving items upstairs and trying to get some rest in between.
In the middle of the night, around 4am, my eldest son woke everyone up to say that the River Exe had broken its banks. Within 15 minutes there was 3ft of water in the house. The water came in at a terrifying speed and with an enormous amount of power.
The electricity went straight away. With only torches and candles for light, we tried to save as many belongings as possible, but now we were wading through flood water and the muck that had seeped out of the cesspit. My daughter-in-law called the emergency services as she desperately needed to get her two young boys out of the house to safety. The Worcestershire Fire Service arrived at about 8:30am and returned later, bringing two boats to evacuate us all.
A lot of irreplaceable items were gone for good – photo albums that were in cupboards and memento boxes that I had kept of my boys' first years. You forget to save these things in the stress of the moment.
We were taken to a local rest centre where a lady tried to find us accommodation, but, as it was two days before Christmas, it seemed an impossible task. Later our landlord offered us a small three-bed bungalow, just out of the area affected by flooding. We accepted, glad that there was somewhere safe for the grandchildren to spend Christmas, but the property turned out to be very cold and damp.
We returned to our home to pick up some essentials, carried a mattress and a baby cot through the flood water, and packed up presents and food that were sealed and had stayed out of the water. The place where we'd spend Christmas couldn't fit all of us in so my parents travelled back 200 miles to their home in Shropshire. The rest of us had to make the best of the temporary accommodation.
The following day, Christmas Eve, we bought bottled water and whatever food we could gather to make some sort of Christmas for the family. The landlord arranged for a cooker to be delivered to the bungalow so at least we could cook something. The insurance company visited the farmhouse to pump out the water and spray disinfectant. There was nothing more that could be done until after Christmas.
For the next nine months we lived upstairs in our farmhouse while the damage was repaired. During six of those months we were without a working kitchen, managing with only a kettle, toaster, electric hob and oven upstairs.
The house was a building site and very dangerous. Some of the walls needed to be demolished, floorboards were removed to aid the drying process and there was fungi growing on the downstairs walls.
You might ask; why not move? Our landlord promised to help with temporary accommodation and repairs but sadly this did not happen. There was also the financial cost. We had already had the burden of buying essential items to replace what we had lost. A lot of irreplaceable items were gone for good – photo albums that were in cupboards and memento boxes that I had kept of my boys' first years. You forget to save these things in the stress of the moment.
After nine hard months, we had finally had enough and moved. Despite the physical ordeal being over, it took a lot longer to get over the emotional impact of the flood and the loss of our home.
I hope that my story will help you to understand the physical and emotional trauma that's caused when you are affected by flooding. I would urge you to be #floodaware, check your flood risk and sign up for free flood warnings today.
By Susan Spillard
I'm one of the 88,000 that had to evacuate our city due to a wildfire. 2,200 homes were destroyed. We were very fortunate not to lose ours.
I cannot stress how important it is to put things that are important to you - keepsakes, important documents etc together in one place, so you can grab them and go.
Oh lm so sorry you had to go through all that. It sounds horrific and especially with small children there.l would be terrified as l don't like water at the best of times.I hope you have a warm cosy Christmas this year and that that nightmare will become a distant memory.
Thankyou for writing about this. It must have been very frightening . Fire and water - the worst things to destroy our homes.
It's true that , as we go about our routine business, we take it for granted that no major catastrophe is just about to happen.
That said, I appreciate the suggestion that our important keepsakes could be saved if they were all in one safe place with easy access.
I also wish you a much happier family time this year.
My home was set alight with us inside in the London riots - we escaped with our lives but there were no emergency services to help and we lost everything of any value. It took 2 month before we got any pay out from insurance and we floated around friends' houses and 6 weeks in a Travel Lodge because we had no documents for renting somewhere. Luckily I'd just brought my most treasured photos home in boxes and these just had water damage from the fire hoses, but we received none of the compensation the government promised because the focus was on businesses, not residents.
There was no emotional help and I fought the insurance company over 6 months - we were meant to list all our possessions from memory, which is basically impossible.
Like the OP I would urge anyone to keep photos and other things with sentimental value in a metal container somewhere with easy access and rehearse your escape should the worst happen.
I was involved in the Gloucestershire flooding in 2008, and ended up in temporary housing for a few months.
I managed to grab a box that had the only photos of my daughter, who was stillborn in 2003, but lost EVERY thing else.
I wish I'd kept all my important things in one place so I could grab them, but it's too late now.
As so many have said, I never thought it would happen to me so I didn't plan ahead....
I feel for you. I live in Cumbria and many of our neighbours are still not back in their homes after Storm Desmond last year. I feel anxious every time it rains. I hope you have a peaceful Christmas this year.
Flooding is just so relentless. The water gets in no matter what you try to do. I'm sorry for what you went through. Many neighbours of our flooded at Christmas 2014. Water literally came up through floorboards as they sat down for Christmas day lunch. We live in an area prone to floods from rivers yet our council still want to build hundreds of houses right by the floor plains. Councils, house builders and planning depts have a lot to answer for.