The floods: 'Upstairs was the only dry place'

John Prince, 41, runs the newsagent's in the small village of Robertsbridge, East Sussex, with his partner, Sue. They live above the shop with her son Bryn, aged seven
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The Independent Online

We'd only had our business for three months when the floods came. Sue and I bought the village newsagency together in July and moved in above the shop. We knew there was a stream nearby but that didn't bother us. We knew it hadn't given any trouble to the previous owners, or the ones before that, and they'd been there for 40 years.

We'd only had our business for three months when the floods came. Sue and I bought the village newsagency together in July and moved in above the shop. We knew there was a stream nearby but that didn't bother us. We knew it hadn't given any trouble to the previous owners, or the ones before that, and they'd been there for 40 years.

Over the summer months business was good, really starting to pick up. We made deliveries and ran the shop selling the usual things - papers and stationery, sweets and snacks. Then on the morning of 12 October I looked out of the kitchen window and saw the stream coming up. I thought, God, it's going to come up as high as the grass. But within five minutes it was right across the garden. So I rushed out and started moving the stock we kept in two sheds, just to get it clear of the floor. I thought, surely it won't reach the kitchen. But just to make sure I went out to buy sandbags and that's when I found the road outside under water.

By the time I got back with the bags it was coming into the kitchen and I couldn't stop it. Half an hour later there was a foot of water in the office, the kitchen and half the shop. We were frantically clearing stock off the shelves, and customers were helping; at least, most of them were. I was on my knees swilling in water when someone came up to me and said, "Can I have my magazine please?" I can laugh now, but it wasn't funny at the time.

We couldn't save all the stock and lost all the greetings cards. The only dry place we could move things to was the upstairs bedrooms - I ended up sleeping with 500 packets of crisps by my bed. It wasn't just water, you realise, it was sewage. It stank. The smell was everywhere. Even though we tried to keep the shop open after the water level fell, it was just impossible. The whole ground floor is having to be stripped out - shop units, floors, stud walls, kitchen, even the staircase - they say it's all contaminated. And 10 weeks later we've still got dehumidifiers going every day. Our insurers wanted us to move out to rented accommodation in Battle but that would have been impossible. We would have to get our little boy up at 4am just so we could go to work. We persuaded them to make alterations so we could stay where we were. We've now got a cooker and fridge in the upstairs living room and our bedroom is the office. We managed to keep the papers going by renting a room in the working men's club and we've just reopened the shop in a Portakabin in the garden. It's hard to say how much business we've lost because of the flooding. Seventy families have had to leave homes in the village, and Gray-Nicolls, the cricket bat factory, has packed up and moved to Rye. Their workers all used to buy pies in our shop.

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