The waters recede, the misery remains

Homes, businesses, farms and lives are ruined. Thousands of people still wait on insurers and the Government for help that may never come

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Weeks after floods devastated the country from north to south, thousands of victims are still suffering.

Weeks after floods devastated the country from north to south, thousands of victims are still suffering.

Hundreds of families remain homeless. Thousands are still waiting for insurance payouts. Residents of an estimated one-quarter of the 4,000 homes flooded had no contents insurance at all. Others have been shocked to discover their coverage was inadequate.

Farmers have lost hundreds of millions of pounds on ruined crops. Hundreds of businesses have been told no one is willing to renew their cover, and face ruin if the waters return next year.

Government aid has been promised to local authorities who paid for emergency shelters and soup kitchens, and £51m has been made available to the Environment Agency for emergency flood defences. However, no aid or compensation will be provided to ordinary people.

This is Britain after the November floods. With more storms expected early this week, the numbers of lives and homes ruined seem set to grow. In towns such as Lewes, in East Sussex, up to nine gallons of water a day is still being pumped from houses. They must be dried out before repairs can even begin.

Widow Ann Wares, aged 72, has been told it will be at least six months before she can return to her terraced home. In the meantime, she is living with her daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren. She said: "All I want is a nice little bedsit with a cooker and some privacy."

Other residents are camped out in caravans on their front gardens. These are provided by their insurers, but the costs mount up. Retired prison guard Peter Urry, aged 56, has spent £1,000 on clothing, bedding and kitchen equipment, but is still waiting for an interim payment from insurers.

Neighbour Avril Childs, sharing a caravan with her husband, faces uncertainty over contents insurance, which was supposed to safeguard items in her home. She said the family was insured for £35,000 but lost property worth £38,000 including some she was storing for her two grown-up sons.

"We have been told that because only one third of the house was flooded, we may be eligible for one third of £35,000," she said. "We still don't know where we stand."

A spokesman for Lewes District Council said: "A significant minority of residents were not insured, or underinsured." The authority set up a hardship fund, which has raised £150,000.

The local MP, Liberal Democrat Norman Baker, will tomorrow ask the Government for more help in an adjournment debate. He will call for the floods to be declared a national disaster. "We have had tea and sympathy, now we need hard cash," he said.

Around 200 homes in the village of Barlby, North Yorkshire, remain abandoned after the river Ouse burst its banks. The parish council has been forced to employ security guards to protect empty properties against looters

Sharon Egan is one of those affected. She is renting accommodation with her husband and teenage son and chairs the Barlby Action Committee set up to deal with the crisis. She said some families had spent up to £3,000 on rent, transport, food and other essentials and then received only £1,000 back from insurers.

"A lot of people are very angry but we are trying to get some answers," she said.

John Grogan, the local Labour MP, is compiling a dossier of concerns, which he will present to the Association of British Insurers (ABI).

The Archbishop of York, Dr David Hope, has organised a fund to distribute more than £25,000 in unsolicited donations, including £1,000 from Sir Jimmy Savile. A spokesman for the Archbishop said: "We have had elderly people who spent their life savings on their homes and found there was nothing left to buy Christmas presents."

In Worcester, residents living in Waverley Street were confronted with raw sewage in their living rooms when the town's drainage system overflowed. They include Mary Dhonau, along with her husband and five children, who are currently living on the upper floors of their house while the damage is repaired.

She said: "When workmen lifted up the floorboards I could not believe the smell. Tears were streaming down their faces, but it is hardly better now and we have to live here."

Businesses have suffered too. Shrewsbury Chamber of Commerce is investigating complaints that insurers are refusing point blank to renew cover against flood damage caused by the River Severn bursting its banks. Traders warn the next flood could destroy the economy of the Shropshire town.

Dave Payne, owner of Abbey Hardware, said his broker had told him his flood insurance would not be renewed. He said: "I know many traders in the area have been given the same advice as me." He is also still waiting for insurance payouts to cover repairs to the building.

Ann and Bob Banks, landlords of the Anchor Pub in Shrewsbury, already have to make do without cover. They say that when they took over the tavern three-and-a-half years ago, nobody warned them of the dangers. In September last year, after four serious floods, they were told no future claims would be considered.

Now they are fitting a new bar, re-plastering the walls and renovating the cellar after October's deluge. They are unlikely to re-open until February, and the lost trade alone will cost £40,000. Mr Banks said: "We cannot simply give up or we would lose everything we have put into the business."

Some firms have been told cover will only be renewed if they make expensive alterations. Merchants House, a fish and chip restaurant in Bewdley, Worcestershire, is having to spend more than £22,000 on water-proof tiles and a mechanical fryer which can lift into the ceiling when required, protecting it from the water.

The manager, Christopher Preece, said: "We are still waiting for the go-ahead from the insurance firm to repair damage. The rain tore a hole in the roof, and it is still there."

Speaking for the ABI, Vic Rance, said: "Insurers may refuse to cover a property that is continually flooded. It becomes more like maintenance than insurance."

If a property has been flooded once there would not necessarily be a problem, he said, although it does raise the possibility that it could happen again. "But no one should assume they will be turned down." He said that insurers expect to pay out £450m due to the floods.

It is impossible, however, to insure against weather damage to crops. The National Farmers Union estimates losses caused by the floods run to hundreds of millions.

For example, 100 acres at Iford Farm near Lewes is still submerged. Winter crops cannot be drilled, and those planted in September are ruined.

Farmer John Robinson, whose grandfather founded the business in 1895, said: "We cannot know the full extent of the damage until the waters have gone. Losses will be in the hundreds of thousands.

"Bad weather is an occupational hazard, but conditions this year were extreme and the effects are catastrophic. We were expecting to lose money anyway because of the low prices of milk and cereal. It couldn't have come at a worse time."

The NFU said crops in many flooded fields where water had receded could not be harvested because the ground was too sodden for equipment to be used on it.

Countryside minister Elliot Morley last night told the IoS: "We are anxious to ensure people's needs are not forgotten even when the floods are not in the news. We are putting millions into after-care. Local authorities who spent more than 0.2 per cent of their budget on clean-up operations will automatically get 100 per cent of their costs back, whereas previously it was only 80 per cent. There is also a lot of money for flood defences."

He said that the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, had spoken with the NFU and support was available. "For example, farmers who lost crops can put the field into set-aside and receive set-aside payments. "We are not aware of many people who have been told they will not be re-insured, but we know there are concerns and we have held discussions with the ABI."

Families in serious financial difficulties could apply for help from the social fund, which provides emergency interest-free loans.

But he said there was no possibility of Government grants for householders without insurance. He added. "Why would people bother getting insurance if we picked up the bill for those that didn't?"

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