Thursday 22 February 2018

'It's horrendous. I've never seen water come up like this'

Soldiers in Ribchester assisting the emergency services Photo: PA
Soldiers in Ribchester assisting the emergency services Photo: PA

Dean Kirby

With its twinkling lights and crowded pubs, Whalley in Lancashire looked like thousands of other English villages on Boxing Day. But many of those standing at the bar had been forced to flee their homes yesterday after the river Calder burst its banks.

At the end of King Street, rescue boats glided across the flood water and the only sound was the drone of the fire brigade's water pumps and generators.

Amy Slinger (41), one of those evacuated, has had her home and delicatessen shop flooded. "My best friend knocked on my door and told me we had to leave. We got out as quickly as we could. It's worrying, but what can you do? There is a huge community spirit here and everybody is looking after each other."

The owners of a clothes shop in the village have been handing out free clothes to flood victims and villagers have been supporting each other in other ways.

At The Dog Inn, a 350-year-old pub in the centre of the village, customers spent all day bailing out the flooded back room. They sat at the bar trying to make the best of what remained of Boxing Day, while a TV in the still-flooded back room showed the latest weather forecast.

Christine Atty, the landlady, said: "We watched the water coming through the back door. There was nothing we could do.

"We've never had flooding like this before. We were watching the news last week and worrying for the people in Cumbria, but now it's happened here, but the community has been fantastic."

Inside the police cordon, Kellie Hughes swept water from her hairdressing salon while her daughter dragged a sodden duvet on to the pavement.

"It's absolutely horrific," she said: "I've been here for 18 years and we've never had anything like this. We had sandbags at the door, but the water just came up from underneath. It's soul-destroying, but everyone in the village is helping each other."

Just a few doors down Fiona Sutcliffe, a dentist, used buckets to bail out her surgery, which was recently nominated for private practice of the year in a national awards ceremony.

She has had the business for 17 years and her biggest concern was the £25,000 dentist's chair in the flooded back room. "The water came through the back door," she says. "We've just got to keep mopping. I'm absolutely gutted. If the chair doesn't work, we'll have to order a new one and it could take a long time."

A few miles away in Ribchester, families were rebuilding sandbag walls after the river Ribble burst its banks, flooding houses and a pub. The water seeped under the flood defences and cars were left half submerged next to flooded garages.

The fast-flowing river had grown to nearly a mile wide and trees were floating past. Cattle and sheep were reportedly swept away by the current.

Neighbours said a farmer sent his sheepdog across a flooded field to corral 40 stranded sheep before he managed to rescue them with a tractor.

Back in Whalley, Hugh Shackleton spent his 75th birthday trying to clear water from his flooded house. He had managed to lift his furniture off the floor and place it on top of old paint tins and blocks of wood, keeping it clear of the water.

He and his wife, Joan (73) and children, refused to leave when the Army knocked at their door and told them to evacuate. Their Christmas tree lay uselessly on its side on the settee.

"It's been horrendous," he says. "I've lived here 52 years and I've never seen the water come up like this.

Irish Independent

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