'Noah's ark' saves stranded people and pets

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The Independent Online

There was only one way out of Yalding yesterday - by boat. The village in the heart of Kent commuter-land, less than 10 miles from Maidstone, had, after three days of torrential rain, disappeared under a 500ft-wide tide of stinking flood water.

There was only one way out of Yalding yesterday - by boat. The village in the heart of Kent commuter-land, less than 10 miles from Maidstone, had, after three days of torrential rain, disappeared under a 500ft-wide tide of stinking flood water.

From 3am a formidable army of rescue workers, armed to the teeth with waders, inflatable boats and mobile tea-making facilities, descended on the marooned village, as the two rivers that surround it burst their banks.

By mid-morning the river Beult and the river Medway had joined forces to surround the community, spreading dismay among some of its 200 citizens and leaving more than 150 of its distinctive weather-boarded houses inundated, their owners in dire need of a lift from the Kent Fire Brigade and RNLI. Kathleen Neate, 59, looked on in despair as she stepped from an inflatable dinghy, shortly before 4pm after leaving her house under 2ft of water, with her personal possessions floating about her.

She recalled how, in 1968, a similar flood had ripped through Yalding High Street. Yesterday it was once more the chosen route for a raging torrent, whose only visible content was raw sewage.

Shaking her head she said: "I just can't believe it. I just can't believe it has happened again."

The village, which suffered 72 hours of thunderstorms and heavy rain, was bathed in brilliant sunshine by mid-morning. But the irony was lost on some as an RAF rescue helicopter clattered above their heads and they vowed to stay in their homes.

Mena Shaee was one of those staying put. She said: "As I look out of my window I can see water, water, water, water. It is horribly cold, we have no electricity and the water stinks. But we're determined to stay put because we don't want to leave our home. It's as simple as that."

But for every Mrs Shaee, by last night one of a dwindling number of die-hards, there were dozens happy to be rescued from their first-floor windows and taken to a reception centre at a secondary school in high ground in Maidstone.

By high water at 4pm, the fire brigade said the rescue services had retrieved 32 adults, 15 children and "a large number of cats and dogs".

Those rescued included some of Yalding's more vulnerable inhabitants - a three-month-old baby, an 80-year-old grandmother and a 20-year-old woman due to give birth in three weeks.

Station Officer Martin Elkins, drafted in from Tunbridge Wells fire station, said: "All life has passed through our boats today, from the very youngest to the most frail. I suppose it's a sort of Noah's Ark."

The Environment Agency said the water would continue to rise as flood barriers further up stream were opened, threatening to engulf at least one in Yalding. The evacuation was continuing into the night.

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