Thursday 22 February 2018

Flood emergency: Christmas ruined for thousands of families who were forced to flee homes

Members of the emergency services rescue a woman from a flooded street in Naburn, northern England Photo: Reuters
Members of the emergency services rescue a woman from a flooded street in Naburn, northern England Photo: Reuters
Rescuers help with the evacuation on a flooded street in Tadcaster, northern England Photo: Reuters
Water runs out of flooded properties after the River Ouse bursts its banks in York city centre Photo: PA

Sarah Knapton

Devastating floods which forced thousands to flee their houses over Christmas and left 10,000 homes without power, will return this week as the government admitted that every defence will need to be reviewed.

Christmas was ruined for thousands as waters rose so fast in some areas that families were not able to grab essentials, such as food and warm clothes, before fleeing to safety.

Even city centres were not safe, as rivers burst their banks in York, Manchester and Leeds leaving buildings under several feet of water, and homeowners battling worse floods than in 2007. And forecasters warned that more rain is on the way.

Former Labour environment secretary and Leeds MP Hilary Benn, said his city had never experienced anything like it while West Yorkshire police declared a ‘major incident’ saying it was the ‘worst flooding in 70 years.’

David Cameron deployed a further 200 soldiers to Northern England, bringing the total to 500, and said another 1,000 would remain on standby as ‘unprecedented’ levels of rain fell on already saturated grounds and more was forecast in the run up to New Year. Environment Secretary Liz Truss said the potential for further flooding in coming days was ‘very real’

Speaking after an emergency Cobra meeting, the Prime Minister said the government would "do whatever is needed" to help communities recover from the deluge but accepted that even recently installed defences had been ‘overrun.’

The government announced that every household affected will received £500 for temporary accommodation and immediate costs, and a further £5000 to help flood proof their homes.

“At this time of year, we all feel huge sympathy for those who have been flooded and have had to leave their homes,” said the Prime Minister.

"Whenever these things happen, you should look at what you've spent, look at what you've built, look at what you're planning to spend, look at what you're planning to build, and ask whether it's in the right places, whether it's enough, whether we're doing everything we can to try and help.

"The flood barriers have made a difference but it's clear in some cases they've been over-topped, they've been overrun, and so of course we should look again at whether there's more we should do."

In Lancashire every river reached record heights, and North Yorkshire police said they had run out of ‘road closed’ signs and asked motorists not to attempt to drive through standing water.

The River Calder burst its banks in the town of Mytholmroyd, Yorkshire, and an elderly man had to rescued from his submerged Land Rover.

Amongst the worst hit by the latest deluge was the village of Walsden, in the Calder Valley.

Kellie Hughes, a hairdresser who lives in Walsden, said the situation was “a million times worse” than a fortnight ago, when the same road was flooded.

“It’s just horrific, really bad,” she said. “There are no more sandbags anywhere. People are panicking. That’s my business and my home, it’s a double whammy.

In nearby Sowerby Bridge, residents said it was the first time that the town centre had flooded since 1968.

Brian Marshall said flood waters in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, had been running with such force on Saturday night that sandbags had been "ripped up".

"It was just impossible to do anything,” he added.

The River Ouse in York was expected to peak at more than five yards above normal summer levels on Monday afternoon, and police advised between 300 and 400 people to evacuate the city. The Pallister family was advised to leave their home while their children still wearing their pyjamas.

Mother Lisa Pallister, 36, said: "We didn't think it would reach us because we're raised off the ground and have three storeys but, by this morning, it was on the steps and it is going to rise by lunchtime. So we had a boat ride out.

"We're feeling all right. A bit tired, a bit shocked. We're lucky though, a lot of other residents were flooded last night early on.”

It emerged that the Environment Agency had opened flood barriers in York, causing water to pour into the city. It was feared that rising water could flood electricity stations and cut power to vital pumps, making the situation worse.

Lt Col Hamish Cormack, from the Duke of Lancaster Regiment, said levels in York were still rising - saying "we've not probably seen the worst of it yet".

In Leeds, the River Aire bursts its banks after rising to 9ft six inches, beating the previous record of 8ft set in 2007, and leaving homes sitting in five feet of water.

Leeds MP Hilary Benn said investment in flood defences must be increased.

"This is the worst we have ever seen. These are the highest levels that have been experienced in the centre of the city. The need for improved flood defence is increasing really, really fast because the climate is changing.”

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