Somerset floods: After the deluge, it’s time to turn on the ‘spending taps’

Most of the residents whose homes were devastated in the recent Somerset Levels flooding are only just beginning to return to them. But the repair job will take time and money.

The floorboards are warped and the walls caked in filth from 2ft of flood water, while the garden is strewn with debris that washed “ashore” during the three weeks that Bryony Sadler’s once-picturesque home in the Somerset Levels became a breakwater against the surge of flood water.

Like dozens of other residents of the hamlet of Moorland, Ms Sadler has only just been able to return to count the cost of floods to her former rectory home. It was over the weekend that she began to face the task of rebuilding a family life in a home that spent more than three weeks submerged in dank and fetid flood water. Most likely Ms Sadler, along with her husband and two young children, will be in temporary accommodation for a year.

The waters finally dropped low enough to allow off-road vehicles to drive through the area last week, but only now are most residents returning. Some are planning to live in caravans, but normal life is perhaps six months away. For Ms Sadler the return meant the heartbreaking task of packing up her family’s belongings for storage, with everything from toy tractors and children’s clothes to mud-splattered family portraits needing to be packed away.

“Having to pack up your home is truly dreadful,” she said. “What do I do? What do I try and rescue and what do I abandon as lost? We could be out for a full year and I don’t want to come back in that time. I just don’t know how much my son will grow in that time. What do I pack for him?”

 

The 2ft of water that submerged her home is gone, but the sewage stench remains and tubes of antibacterial hand wash have become an “essential accessory” for Bryony, who explained that most homes in the hamlet have septic tanks, which spread waste throughout the area.

The inundated hamlet of Moorland The inundated hamlet of Moorland (Getty Images)
Moorland was in the eye of the storm during this winter’s unprecedented flooding on the Somerset Levels. The legacy is more than 80 flooded homes, broken flood defences scattered across the hamlets, fallen walls, water-damaged roads and somewhere in the region of 3,000 sodden sandbags that are now slated for removal.

The flood-hit hamlet may be drying out now, but from a nearby high point on the Burrowbridge Mump you can still see vast areas of standing water in the surrounding countryside. The flooded areas are smaller than a month ago, but still resemble inland seas more than they do farmland.

In Moorland the cascade of water and a tidal surge saw residents evacuated in the small hours of 7 February as they were woken by sirens and warnings that the Environment Agency defences protecting the hamlet had failed.

Despite the devastation in her home Ms Sadler, who is a co-founder of the Flooding on the Levels Action Group, counts herself as “lucky”.

“My home is a little higher than most so I had time to move things upstairs, but the financial losses are still huge. We have no money because I’m a mobile hairdresser and I don’t know where my clients are. And my other business is raising rare-breed chickens. They’ve had to go. Only my husband is working.”

Farther into the village, builder Trevor Gibbs, 52,  was also returning to clear away the debris that had “washed in with the tide” and into his home.

“It’s a total disaster area,” he said. “I’ve had water 18in deep inside and it has gutted the entire property. At the height of the floods you could see the white horses of the waves coming in off the flooded fields. The result is my house is full of pieces of debris and pieces of other people’s homes.” As he heaved a chunk of thickly mud-coated wood into a skip, he said: “It’s devastating but you have to go on and see the funny side of it. Who knows what this is or where it came from?”

Nearby, the local Conservative MP, Ian Liddell-Grainger, was meeting residents and emergency workers at a mobile police station that has been set up outside the flooded village hall.

“My first reaction was shock at the total devastation. It’s no exaggeration to say it resembles a war zone,” he said.

Moorland, Somerset Moorland, Somerset (Jay Williams)
Mr Liddell-Grainger’s visit came after the Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, announced £20 million for a 20-year flood-action plan for the Somerset Levels last Thursday. However, the funding falls short of the expected £100 million total cost of the plan, which includes raising key roads and building a new tidal barrage across the river Parrett costing £30 million.

“We need to turn on the spending taps,” said Mr Liddell-Grainger, a normally fiscally conservative politician. “The local people here won’t let long-term defences go into the wind.”

Back in her flooded kitchen, Ms Sadler is actually the  “most optimistic” that she has been in some time, but is adamant the Government shouldn’t protect “front rooms over farmland”.

“Both are flooded here,” she said. “David Cameron said money was no object, but he’s had to backtrack on that, it seems. We won’t let people forget us.”

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